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This aerial photo taken on Aug. 11, shows a fire burning east of Yellowknife near Reid Lake. The fire is currently about 335 square kilometres in size but is not being directly fought because it is not threatening any structures, according to ENR officials - NNSL file photo

Reid Lake infrastructure no longer threatened
Officials say this year's fires burned area only one-fifth in size to previous season

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Although the 335-square-kilometre Reid Lake fire is still considered out-of-control, it's no longer being fought because there's no danger to cabins, lodges or powerlines as of Monday afternoon.

"There are currently no personnel or crews directly battling fires," said Richard Olsen, manager of fire operations with the territorial government's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).

Meanwhile, throughout the territory the fire season is winding down.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is heading into cleanup mode in many cases, said Olsen.

"We do have a little bit of cleanup on some fires, taking down sprinkler systems and work back at the bases, cleaning up equipment, hoses and other fire materials, getting ready for future use," he said.

Cooler, wetter weather, especially in August has meant that dire predictions in the spring about a worse fire season than last year in the NWT have proven untrue.

With a little more than a month left in the official wildfire season in the territory, the amount of land lost to fire this year in the NWT is only about one-fifth the area of what burned in 2014, according to Olsen.

About 6,220-square kilometres have burned this year compared to approximately 34,150-square kilometres last year, Olsen said.

"The weather really co-operated and we have had a significant amount of rain in several areas that have brought out overall fuel moisture conditions right down," Olsen said.

"There still remains some dry areas around Great Slave Lake, especially in the Yellowknife area. We're still looking at drought conditions well in excess of what we would normally see in that area at this time of year."

Olsen said there are at least a couple of reasons other than the weather as to why the fire season hasn't been as bad as last year. Early in the season, fire crews took a more aggressive stance on fires that showed long-term potential, he said, adding that because so much land burned last summer, there was less fuel to burn for fires this year.

Olsen said he will be looking into a report that as much as 300 cords of wood, valued at $100,000, were lost during a controlled back burn. It is not clear where the fire is supposed to have taken place or who owns the property. Olsen said he would report back once he was updated on exactly what happened.

There were two major losses due to wildfires in the NWT last year - a Hoarfrost River homestead on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake and the Moraine Point Lodge south of Yellowknife.

"It was comforting (this year) to know that our people were doing well and helping to protect people's values and were doing so safely" said Olsen. The fire situation in the territory was so moderate this month that ENR was able to free up 10 people, including Olsen, to go to Oregon and help with one of the worst fire seasons in that state's history.

The forest fire season in the NWT officially ends on Sept. 30.

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