NWT fire-free for now
Risk of summer forest fires could soar in some areas

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 11/98) - Although forest fires raged out of control in northern Alberta last week, the threat of similar blazes in the NWT is unlikely in the near future, according to the territorial Forest Fire Centre in Fort Smith.

However, Hay River, Inuvik and Normal Wells may get close to extreme levels on the forest-fire index this summer, said meteorologist Peter Skeates. Those communities only received 50 to 66 per cent of their average precipitation over the winter. The driest conditions in summer usually come in mid-July.

As of last Wednesday, the index across the NWT ranged from low to moderate due to some precipitation nearly two weeks ago, according to Bill Mawdsley, duty officer at the fire centre. No fires have been reported to this point in the territories, Mawdsley said.

Some fairly wet conditions last fall elevated the ground moisture, Mawdsley noted. As well, last summer was quite wet -- resulting in fewer fires than usual.

There are, on average, 320 fires in the NWT each year. Lightning is the cause of 80 to 90 per cent of them.

Parks Canada issued a ban on all open fires within all national parks in Alberta Thursday. Such an extreme measure could also be necessary in extreme situations in the NWT. However, those measures are next to impossible to enforce, according to Mawdsley.

Last week, three water bombers -- with combined crews of seven people -- a communications officer and a heavy-equipment supervisor were dispatched to the Slave Lake area of Alberta, where firefighters were trying to contain a blaze near Swan Hills.

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