09/18/2014 10:09 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:58 EDT

Worst forest fires in 30 years cost N.W.T. $55 million

Crews have gone home and the worst forest fire season in the Northwest Territories has come to a close.  

"Mother Nature finally came into our corner," says Michael Miltenberger, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. "The fire season is pretty well officially over." 

Even this late in the year, many fires are still burning, but most are under control. The department is preparing for a post-mortem examination of the season, once the last of the work is done, including gathering tons of equipment — and kilometres of hose — scattered throughout the territory. 

But the bill for the summer could linger for some time. 

The N.W.T.'s Department of Environment and Natural Resources spent $55 million fighting fires this season — eight times the amount of money budgeted. 

Miltenberger says the territory will borrow the money to pay for this season, and the hope it's not as bad next year.

"I think what people need to have confidence in is that we will spend the money to fight the fires. We will be there to protect the property and the people of the Northwest Territories." 

In hindsight, Miltenberger says his department would have had more firefighters trained ahead of the season, and would have staged larger attacks where property was lost, such as the Hoarfrost River homestead on the East Arm and the Moraine Point Lodge. 

But now that the season is over, Miltenberger says there may be some benefit from the 3.5 million hectares of burnt land.

"We want to put that timber to use. This fall, we want to open up all that fire killed area in the communities for harvesting to make it easy as possible so folks who have to travel many long kilometres like they do in Yellowknife. We'll now have access close to home for years to come."

Miltenberger also wants to encourage people to pick the prized morel mushrooms that will grow next year in the burn areas.