Burn­ing is­sue

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Editorial -

Ev­ery province in Canada must come to grips with the fact that cli­mate change is a lead­ing fac­tor be­hind the dis­as­trous for­est fires rag­ing in West­ern Canada. And we should do what we can to be pre­pared, be­cause sim­i­lar events could hap­pen here.

As we have seen in Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia, fires can turn into dan­ger­ous catas­tro­phes in very short time, threat­en­ing peo­ple, wildlife and prop­erty.

Last sum­mer in At­lantic Canada was hot and dry. Bans on burn­ing and camp­fires were wide­spread. Con­di­tions this year are more mod­er­ate so far, but a pro­longed dry spell could make things very dan­ger­ous, very quickly.

There are two events at play in West­ern Canada. Fort McMur­ray has a key role in Al­berta’s oil sands in­dus­try -- a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in cli­mate change. The dis­as­ter that razed much of Fort McMur­ray last year makes it im­per­a­tive to rec­og­nize the con­nec­tion be­tween hu­man-in­flu­enced cli­mate change and wildfires.

The Fort McMur­ray in­ferno, which broke out May 1, 2016, was the worst and costli­est wild­fire in Cana­dian his­tory. It forced the evac­u­a­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 90,000 peo­ple, de­stroyed thou­sands of homes and build­ings and forced the shut­down of oil sands op­er­a­tions.

The fire spread across ap­prox­i­mately 590,000 hectares -- an area larger than Prince Ed­ward Is­land -- be­fore it was brought un­der con­trol. Man likely started the fire, but the con­di­tions were di­rectly re­lated to cli­mate change. An unusually hot, dry air mass was in place over North­ern Al­berta that month, which brought record-set­ting tem­per­a­tures to Fort McMur­ray, hit­ting over 32 C for days, along with high winds and low hu­mid­ity. It was a recipe for dis­as­ter.

B.C. has de­clared a state of emer­gency this month as more than 200 wildfires burn across that province.

Iron­i­cally, B.C. is partly re­spon­si­ble for its height­ened for­est fire threat.

The province has been so suc­cess­ful at putting out wildfires in re­cent decades that denser forests have de­vel­oped, with a lot of dead ma­te­rial on the ground. Now, when the province has in­creas­ingly reg­u­lar hot, dry weather, wildfires are much more se­vere.

B.C. tried to pro­tect its forests from wildfires, but in­stead cre­ated a sit­u­a­tion where they’re much more sus­cep­ti­ble and the fires are more dam­ag­ing.

And fire-friendly weather con­di­tions, once con­sid­ered the ex­cep­tion, will soon be­come av­er­age, based on cli­mate change pre­dic­tions.

Eastern prov­inces are tak­ing some ac­tion. For ex­am­ple, this week, New­found­land and Labrador un­veiled a new tool to help stop for­est fires be­fore they start -- an on­line for­est fire haz­ard map that pro­vides real-time in­for­ma­tion about the risk of wildfires through­out the province.

Hot, dry weather pat­terns are pro­jected to oc­cur longer and ear­lier in B.C, Al­berta and else­where in the coun­try. We must take steps to com­bat cli­mate change, and to man­age our forests more wisely and safely.

If not, it could be us hav­ing to sound the alarm.

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