Canadian wildfire season: ‘“Unprecedented” doesn’t do it justice’
By the Climate Centre
The Canadian Red Cross last week launched a national appeal to assist people affected by hundreds of new wildfires raging in the western province of British Columbia – the latest chapter in what is already by far the most destructive wildfire season in modern Canadian history.
British Columbia’s Emergency Management Minister, Bowinn Ma, said yesterday some 27,000 people in the province are under evacuation orders, with another 35,000 on alert to evacuate on short notice, CBC reported.
A study published today by World Weather Attribution scientists says climate change made the weather that drove extreme fires in the eastern province of Quebec, on the other side of the country, earlier this year at least twice as likely and the fires up to 50 per cent more intense.
It says nearly 14 million hectares have been burnt this year in Canada – already nearly double the 1989 record of 7.6 million, with several weeks of the 2023 season to go; in total, nearly 200,000 people have been evacuated from affected areas – the highest number since 1980.
The WWA study uses a Fire Weather Index that combines temperature, windspeed, humidity and precipitation to estimate the risk of wildfire.
Yan Boulanger, a scientist at Natural Resources Canada, said: “The word ‘unprecedented’ doesn’t do justice to the severity of the wildfires in Canada this year. From a scientific perspective, the doubling of the previous burned-area record is shocking.
“Climate change is greatly increasing the flammability of the fuel available for wildfires – this means that a single spark, regardless of its source, can rapidly turn into a blazing inferno.”
From May to July, Canada witnessed “exceptionally extreme fire-weather conditions”, the WWA study says, helped by a new national temperature record for the two-month period, low humidity and rapidly melting snow.
“In today’s climate, similar weather conditions can be expected to occur once every 25 years, meaning that they have about a 4 per cent chance of occurring each year,” a WWA press release said.
“The analysis also shows that if the planet continues to warm, the risk of even greater wildfires will further increase.”
The wildfires have badly affected Canada’s remote communities, accessible only by air, especially those of indigenous people, the study adds; but the impacts reached far beyond the burning forests themselves, with smoke blanketing large parts of Canada and the US, and the researchers call for more public awareness of the risks of poor air-quality from wildfire smoke.
Canadian Red Cross President and CEO Conrad Sauvé said: “Year after year, the Canadian Red Cross is witnessing an increase in extreme weather events and also concurrent events that are impacting communities across the country.
“By better understanding the risks, we can adopt mitigation strategies in an effort to reduce the severity of emergencies and disasters on people living in Canada and around the world.
“A decade ago, the work of the Canadian Red Cross responding to large-scale disasters and emergencies was largely overseas. Now the vast majority of the Canadian Red Cross response efforts are domestically focused, supporting Canadians impacted by destructive events.”
Media reports in July said there were nearly 4,000 provincial firefighters working across Canada, assisted by its military, with more than 3,000 more from (alphabetically) Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, the EU, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain and the US.
The new WWA study was conducted by scientists from universities and meteorological agencies in Canada, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.
Kelowna residents gaze at blazing hillsides on the other side of the Okanagan lake Friday – British Columbia’s third largest city is a focus of the latest chapter in what is already by far the most destructive wildfire season in Canadian history. A new study published today by World Weather Attribution scientists says climate change made the weather that drove the fires in the eastern province of Quebec earlier this year at least twice as likely and up to 50 per cent more intense. (Photo courtesy Kyle Brittain)