Long, hot wild­fire sea­son com­ing

Canada is about 100 fires ahead of the 10-year av­er­age for early May ahead of a dry sum­mer

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - BOB WE­BER

Fed­eral wild­fire re­searchers say most re­gions in Canada could be fac­ing a long, hot, fiery sum­mer.

Wild­fire starts and the amount of land burned were be­low av­er­age for the first few weeks of the sea­son, but dry weather is turn­ing things around, said Richard Carr, a fire re­search an­a­lyst with Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada.

“We’ve had a long, lin­ger­ing win­ter and a bit of a slow start to the fire sea­son, but the num­bers are higher than the same time last year.”

Across the coun­try, wild­fire starts have been above av­er­age since the end of April. On the na­tional fire dan­ger map, the risk in al­most all of the three most west­erly prov­inces is rated at least high. Saskatchewan shows as al­most en­tirely ex­treme.

Two prov­inces have al­ready had their first evac­u­a­tions of the year. About 40 peo­ple in Crutwell, Sask., have had to flee their homes at least twice. Seven fam­i­lies in Lac du Bon­net, Man., also had to leave.

Manitoba has counted 119 fires so far. Last year at this time, the fig­ure was 27 and the year be­fore that it was 58.

Na­tion­ally, the Cana­dian In­ter­a­gency For­est Fire Cen­tre says Canada is about 100 fires ahead of the 10-year av­er­age for early May.

Al­though some parts of the coun­try are flood­ing, much of the forested area re­mains dry, said Carr.

“It’s pretty dry across that whole stretch, right from Bri­tish Columbia to west­ern On­tario.”

On­tario has banned open fires in its north­west and Alberta has posted bans in many parks and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. A ban in Saskatchewan cov­ers Crown land in pro­vin­cial parks, ex­cept in the Cy­press Hills.

The Alberta gov­ern­ment pro­duces a map that dis­plays how dry forests are. Al­most the en­tire forested re­gion of the prov­ince rates at least 89 out of 100.

More wor­ri­some are En­vi­ron­ment Canada’s weather pre­dic­tions for the sum­mer. Al­though pre­cip­i­ta­tion is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict and some rainy re­lief is ex­pected by July, Carr said the data sug­gests it will mostly be hot and dry.

“There’s still a fair amount of Canada that’s show­ing drier than nor­mal con­di­tions,” he said.

“If we get rain dur­ing that time, we might go into a lull and have a nor­mal sum­mer. But if it stays dry — and it looks like there’s a chance that it might — we might be a busier sea­son.

“A num­ber of mod­els are pre­dict­ing a warm sum­mer across North Amer­ica. That’s re­ally in­creased.”

Canada has about 8,000 wild­fires ev­ery year that burn an av­er­age 21,000 square kilo­me­tres of for­est. The amount burned varies widely from year to year, but fed­eral sta­tis­tics sug­gest that fig­ure has been ris­ing for the last sev­eral years.

Sci­en­tists the­o­rize that in­creased wild­fires will be one of the main ef­fects of cli­mate change as hotter weather and less pre­dictable pre­cip­i­ta­tion cre­ates more volatile forests.

Fire con­di­tions are tough to pre­dict. Heavy rains, light­ning strikes or gust­ing winds can change ev­ery­thing.

DAVID ROS­SITER THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A large wild fire burns in Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park in Alberta on Sept. 12.

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