We must come to grips with the fact that climate change is a leading factor for disastrous forest fires in Western Canada. The Atlantic region should take warning that’s it’s never too early to bolster its readiness because similar events could very easily happen here.
As we have seen in Alberta and British Columbia, fires can explode into dangerous catastrophes in a very short time to threaten people and their property. It was a long, hot, dry summer in Atlantic Canada in 2016. Bans on burning and campfires were widespread. Conditions this year are more moderate but a dry period could make things very dangerous, very quickly.
There are two ironic events in play in Western Canada. Fort McMurray plays a leading role in Alberta’s oil sands industry — a contributing factor in climate change. The disaster which struck Fort McMurray last May makes it imperative to talk about 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 in early May 2016, 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 the province. It’s ironic that B.C. is responsible for helping to worsen its own forest fire threat.
The province was so successful at putting out wildfires in recent decades that it has actually created a situation where its forests are a tinderbox. Firefighting efforts resulted in denser forests with a lot of dead material on the ground. Now, as the province swelters under increasingly hot, dry weather conditions, 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.
Fire-friendly weather conditions, once considered rare, will soon become the 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, with 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 reduce climate change and manage our forests more wisely and safely. If not, the Alberta and B.C. disasters could happen here.