14.3 Annual area burned and number of fires

Last Updated: 
May 29, 2015

This indicator measures the annual number of fires and area impacted by wildland fires greater than 200 ha.

Information for this indicator is obtained from the Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Forest Management Division, the agency responsible for providing forest fire management services on forested areas in the NWT.

NWT Focus

Forest fire is a natural phenomenon. Fire is the major stand-renewing disturbance in the boreal and taiga forests around the world. The forests of western North America, under the right conditions, such as hot weather and low forest fuel moisture, will support high-intensity wildland fires. These fires often occur naturally and have the potential to spread quickly, covering large areas. Tracking fires in the NWT is essential to maintaining our ecosystems and fulfilling our duty to protect human life. An accurate understanding of the number of wildfires and area affected is necessary to effectively monitor the state of the environment and manage forest resources.

Current view: status and trend

Although dramatic fluctuations in area burned and the number of fires occur annually, a linear regression shows a weak trend towards a reduction in both the area burnt and the number of fires greater than 200 ha between 1988 and 2008. On average, every year, about 274 fires occurred in the Northwest Territories1. Years with the highest number of fires were 1979, 1994, 1995, 1998, and 2014 (see graph). The average area burned every year is 600,000 ha.

NWT fire statistics for fires over 200 ha in size. Source: NWT Ember System.

Fire history of the NWT from 1965-2014. Fires are grouped by 5 year periods. Source: NWT Ember System. Map from Forest Management. Hay River, NWT.

Looking forward

As the cost and impacts of managing wildland fires continues to increase coupled with the potential implications of climate change, ensuring accurate baseline information is necessary to monitor environmental change and establish effective preparedness levels.

It is logical to assume the frequency and intensity of fires will change as climate changes. A longer fire season, associated with changes in precipitation and temperature coupled with additional stresses to forest and vegetation, such as drought, flooding, insects and disease, reinforce the importance of monitoring this indicator.

Looking around

Unlike the Northwest Territories, where most fires are caused by lightning strikes, many fires in other Canadian jurisdictions are started by humans. The jurisdiction with the highest area burned every year, on average, is Saskatchewan, followed by the Northwest Territories1.

Details on every fire greater than 200 ha in the NWT is forwarded to the following organization, to provide Canada-wide information on fire as an indicator of the state of the environment in Canada:

Reporting every year. http://ciffc.ca/

Find out more

  • Forest Management Division for more information.
  • For more information on national fire averages. The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) provides operational wildlandfire-control services, as well as management and information services to Canadian Fire Management. FireWire is the online fire data service of CIFFC. Viewers can access a stream of constantly-updated Situation Reports every day during the forest fire season. 


Ref. 1. Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

Updated: May 29, 2015