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One forest fire starts season

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (May 22/06) - As of May 17, there has been only one small forest fire so far in the NWT.

Just .01 hectare burned on May 10 as a result of a coal seam fire, about 15km east of Tulita, says Frank Lepine, manager of fire operations with the Fire Management Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Fort Smith.

"Those fires occur regularly. When they pop above ground, we contain them."

Lepine says there are a number of coal seam fires annually in the NWT, noting they may have been burning for "time immemorial" below ground.

The NWT is just getting to the point when lightning begins to start forest fires, he adds. "There are not usually lightning fires until the 21st of May." Lepine says it's hard to say what this fire season which officially began May 1 and runs to Sept. 30 - has in store.

There was a less than average snowfall in Fort Smith, Hay River and Fort Liard and spring has been dry so far, meaning there are higher drought codes in those areas.

The higher the code, the deeper a fire will burn into the forest floor and the harder it will be to extinguish.

"The rest of the Territories is normal or even below average," Lepine says

Despite those factors, Lepine says the severity of a forest fire season is mostly dependent on weather conditions.

Last year, there were 261 fires, which was below the average of 296.

While things have been quiet in the North, the same cannot be said for Alberta and GNWT fire personnel.

Resources have been sent out to help fight wildfires in the province.

Six crews of five firefighters each, two sector leaders and one agency representative left May 16 for Rocky Mountain House. The crews are from Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Providence and Fort Simpson.

They're initial attack crews," Lepine says, noting they are well-seasoned firefighters. This is the second deployment of NWT personnel to Alberta so far this year.

On April 28, five crews of five firefighters each from Fort Smith and Fort Simpson were sent to Lac La Biche. They returned to the NWT on May 12.