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No new wildfire funds – minister hopes for Mother Nature’s help

There is no new money to fight wildfires in the Northwest Territories’ 2015-16 budget.

The territory has earmarked $7.37 million for fire suppression in the coming year, which represents a $118,000 decrease on its 2014-15 budget.

Last year’s figure ended up rising from $7.49 million to $54.82 million as the territory endured its worst-ever wildfire season, involving almost 400 fires.

Early forecasts suggest this summer could be just as bad, with months of intense snowfall and rain required to end the territory’s current drought.

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Read: Wildfires – Get ready for another bad summer across the NWT

Read: NWT budget – Money for now but a tougher outlook ahead

“We know the current base budget will not be adequate,” finance minister Michael Miltenberger admitted to reporters on Thursday.

Despite not having budgeted additional funding to fight this summer’s predicted fires, Miltenberger said cash would be found, no matter what happens.

“While there is a modest amount of money in the current fire budget, when the need is there, our first commitment will be to protect people, property and land. We will spend the money,” he said.

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In total, the territory expects to spend $32.63 million on fire suppression, forest resources programs, and ‘presuppression’.

In addition, $25,000 has been transferred from wildfire research to the FireSmart initiative, which helps communities to plan for wildfires and minimize the risks they face.

Last year, the territory’s financial outlay fighting wildfires was compounded by a $20 million investment late in the year, to avoid a power rate hike when low water levels demanded an early switch from hydro to diesel.

Those two unexpected costs pushed the territory uncomfortably close to its borrowing limit.

Miltenberger says avoiding a similar situation this year is in the lap of the gods.

“Those are two significant unknowns for us – what’s going to happen to the low water level, and then the continued drought and the fire season,” he said.

“Those are things we can’t predict. We’re hoping Mother Nature is going to be on our side.”

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