What caused wild fires in Canada in the past few weeks, hundreds of wildfires have wreaked havoc across Canada,
forcing mass evacuations and devouring millions of acres.
Although Canada’s wildfire season typically spans from May to October, such extensive destruction occurring this early in the season is exceedingly rare.
Consequently, Canada is currently experiencing its most destructive wildfire season in history.
This crisis in Canada has far-reaching consequences.
The fires have emitted smoke that has blanketed significant parts of the United States, adversely affecting the air quality for millions of people.
As the fires continue to rage with no signs of abating, striking images of the thick haze enveloping major American cities vividly depict the toll that the smoke has exacted.
What Caused The Canadian Wildfires ?
Wildfires thrive in warm and dry conditions.
Recently, Canada, like the rest of North America, has faced record heat and drought due to ongoing climate change.
Edward Struzik, an expert at Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University in Canada and the author of Dark Days at Noon,
The Future of Fire, explained that the wildfire season is now lasting longer due to climate change.
Spring arrives earlier, and fall lingers, providing more time for fires to ignite and grasslands to burn.
In 2021, Canada experienced its hottest day ever when Lytton, British Columbia, recorded a scorching 49.6 degrees Celsius (121 degrees Fahrenheit), surpassing the previous record of 113 degrees.
It tied with California’s Death Valley as the hottest spot in North America that day.
The Canadian prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, where wildfires currently rage, have been severely affected by drought.
According to the Canada Drought Monitor, all 10 provinces are facing abnormal dryness, ranging from moderate to severe drought.
Struzik noted that the weakening of the jet stream, responsible for weather patterns moving from west to east, contributes to the fires.
This weakening is a result of the Arctic warming faster than the rest of the world, causing the jet stream to become less stable.
As a result, hot and dry weather systems stall, allowing heat domes to form and create conditions favorable for fires.
According to the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System, the destruction caused by these fires this season is 13 times worse than the 10-year average.
How Did The Fires In Canada Start?
Dry and hot weather also generates more lightning, a key factor in Canada’s wildfire equation.
In a typical season, lightning starts around half of Canada’s wildfires, but these incidents are responsible for over 85% of the wildfire damage.
The remaining half of the fires are caused by human activities.
Small shifts in average temperatures carry significant repercussions.
Edward Struzik, an expert, explained, Most boreal forest fires in northern Canada are ignited by lightning.
A one-degree Celsius temperature rise results in approximately 12% more lightning.
Consequently, as the climate warms, the increased temperature creates more ignition sources for wildfires.
While lightning sparked fires in Quebec, officials in Alberta have yet to determine the cause of the fires there.
In other parts of the country, human actions have ignited fires in various ways, from discarded cigarette butts to sparks from passing trains.
Why Are The Canadian Wildfires Out Of Control?
Severe weather conditions are stoking these rapidly spreading fires, making them exceptionally challenging to combat.
Canada has escalated to national preparedness level 5, signifying a full commitment of all national resources to tackle the fires.
In response to this declaration, international liaison officers from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are arriving to aid in firefighting efforts,
as reported by Chris Stockdale, a wildland fire research officer with the Canadian Forest Service.
President Biden has dispatched U.S. firefighters and attributed the fires to climate change,
stating in a tweet, “We’ve sent over 600 U.S. firefighters, support personnel, and equipment to assist Canada in responding to record wildfires –
events that are intensifying due to the climate crisis.”
Regrettably, the forecasts offer little respite.
Earlier this month, the Canadian government released an updated wildfire season outlook.
Which warns of continued higher-than-normal fire activity across most of the country,
throughout the 2023 wildland fire season due to ongoing drought and long-range forecasts for warm temperatures.
How Are The Wildfires Hurting Air Quality?
Smoke from the current season’s fires has rendered the air across Canada and significant portions of the United States unhealthy to breathe.
As a result, warnings and recommendations have been issued, urging people to limit their outdoor activities or wear masks.
In the recent fires, the Canadian government’s air quality health index categorized;
Yellowknife and Fort Smith as “very high risk,” while Winnipeg, located 1,700 km (1,060 miles) to the southeast, was labeled as “high risk.”
Earlier in the fire season, authorities issued air quality alerts for Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and Toronto, its financial capital.
In the United States, air quality advisories were issued for various regions, including;
- the Midwest,
- East Coast, and
- South, encompassing cities such as New York, Washington, and Chicago.
What Role Is Climate Change Playing?
In June, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attributed the rise in wildfire numbers to climate change.
However, Ellen Whitman, a research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, emphasized the complexity of assessing climate change’s specific impact on a single fire season.
While coastal regions anticipate increased rainfall due to climate change, which could potentially lower fire risk,
the warming atmosphere’s capacity to draw moisture from the soil amplifies the fire risk.
Furthermore, the occurrence of widespread spring fires throughout Canada is atypical, and research indicates that fire seasons are extending across North America.