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'We're into record setting numbers'
35,000 square kilometres lost to forest fires surpasses previous record of 30,000 with no end in sight

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 18, 2014

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
The Northwest Territories has set a new record for the amount of forest lost to fires in a single season and a lack of rain means the bar is getting higher by the day.

The 35,000 square kilometres which have so far been felled by a total of 368 fires this summer, 302 of which were still active as of Friday, have already surpassed the previous record of 30,000 square kilometres set in 1994.

"We're into record setting numbers," said Frank Lepine, associate director of forest management,

With relatively little precipitation in the forecast, Lepine said there is a chance the territory could lose as much as 40,000 square kilometres to forest fires by the end of the season.

"There may be some showers coming next week, there's no big huge season ender which is what we're hoping for," he said. "At this point, we'll take an inch of rain and be happy with that."

The largest of the fires continues to be the Birch Lake complex which has now reached a total of 6,500 square kilometres and continues to grow.

Last week the fire burned around two fire guards which were dug by firefighting crews to the west and southeast of the complex, Lepine said. The guards, which are essentially large clearings cut into the forest at a width of between 15 and 75 metres, allow crews to "fight with fire" by igniting smaller blazes which then create a backdraft that prevent the larger fire from advancing.

Lepine said crews were busy building new guards in those areas but that their priority was ensuring the southwest corner didn't spread toward Fort Providence.

As of Friday afternoon, the Birch Lake complex, which is 32 kilometeres north of Fort Providence, was holding steady and did not present an immediate threat to the community, Lepine said.

He said Fort Providence is currently protected by two fire guards which have been plowed outside the community one right on the outskirts of town and another 10 kilomteres north of it.

He added that the GNWT has an incident command set up in Fort Providence which keeps regular communication with the fire chief, senior administrative office, and the president of the Metis council regarding the state of the fires.

The good news is that residents in the South Slave region would likely see a decrease in the amount of smoke and road closures in the coming weeks as there are less and less trees to burn.

"The fires are running out of fuel," Lepine said. "Over time you'll see less and less smoke."

Highway 3 and Highway 5 remained open as of Friday afternoon.

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