Fires in Canada: A historic fire season, 13.9 million hectares have already burned


Fires in Canada: A historic fire season, 13.9 million hectares have already burned

13.9 million hectares have burned since the start of the year in Canada. The country is currently facing a historic fire season. In the northwest, the inhabitants of Yellowknife were called upon to leave the city before this Friday, August 18 at midday, in the face of the threat of the flames.

[Updated Aug 18, 2023 2:30 PM] 1,050: This is the dizzying number of fires that were still active in Canada, as of August 17, 2023, according to the Canadian Interagency Wildfire Center (CIFFC). The country is indeed facing a wave of fires unprecedented in its history, which began in May in the province of Alberta, located in the west of the country. Of these 1,050 active fires, 671 were out of control, 160 were contained and 219 were contained. A total of 13.9 million hectares have burned since the start of the year, again according to CIFFC. This is more than the area of ​​Greece, which is nearly 13.2 million hectares.

Nearly 168,000 people have been forced to evacuate since the first flames, says Le Parisien. On Wednesday evening, the 20,000 residents of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, were ordered to evacuate the city. “The city is not facing an immediate danger (…) but, without rain, the fire may reach the surroundings of the city this weekend”, warned Shane Thompson, Minister of the Environment of this territory. federal, calling the inhabitants from the city before this Friday noon. Words reported by Le Monde. According to CIFFC, 236 fires were still active in the Northwest Territories as of August 17.

On August 11, Michael Norton, director general of the Canadian Forest Service, warned that the risk of fire should be "above normal" until September, reports Liberation. While forest fires are common in Canada during the summer season, their magnitude this year is exceptional. Thus, the federal government has already affirmed that the country is currently experiencing the worst fire season “ever recorded”, indicates Ouest-France.

It was at the beginning of last May that the first major fires broke out in Canada, in the province of Alberta located in the west of the country, as Le Parisien recalls. At the end of May, Nova Scotia, in the east of the country, was in turn hit by the flames. At the beginning of June, the province of British Columbia, located in northwestern Canada, was also affected by the fires. Other large fires also broke out in the east of the country in July, in Quebec. In this mid-August, it is the turn of the Northwest Territories to face the scourge of the flames, as indicated earlier in this article.

If the forest fire season usually starts in May in the country, as Le Parisien reports, they have been favored this year by a major drought that has hit Canada since the beginning of the year, but also by temperatures high. Due to its geographical location, the country is warming faster than the rest of the world. An Environment Canada report published in 2019 states that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, says Le Figaro.

Canada has been facing extreme weather events like these large fires for several years, recalls franceinfo. Climate change amplifies their intensity and frequency. In a sort of vicious cycle, the wildfires currently affecting the country have resulted in record carbon dioxide emissions, which only worsens climate change. “Our preliminary estimates indicate that emissions for the current season have exceeded one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent,” said Michael Norton, director general of the Canadian Forest Service, on August 11, reports Liberation.

In the next few years, the Canadian government even estimates that "the area devastated by forest fires is expected to double by 2050 due to climate change." In response, the country launched the "GardeFeu" mission: a satellite system to monitor its forests. But the Canadian Space Agency does not plan to put it into service until 2029. A significant period of time at a time when fires are threatening more and more.

Canadian firefighters are struggling to cope with the scale of the fire season in the country this year, facing a shortage of manpower, as recalled by Le Parisien. The Ile-de-France daily indicates that nearly 5,000 firefighters from other countries have been sent to help them since the first fires last May, and that the Canadian armed forces have also been called in as reinforcements. Australia and the United States are among the countries that have sent firefighting teams to Canada, as has France.

Among the possible solutions to respond to the scourge of forest fires, a debate exists in Canada on the possibility of betting on less flammable trees to replace the conifers that characterize Canadian forests. Some provinces are also open to the return of an indigenous technique that has been practiced for millennia: prescribed burning. It is a question of "avoiding the formation of a bed of plants which could serve as fuel for a possible fire" by burning the most combustible vegetation and dead wood before the summer season, according to the departmental fire department and relief from the Var.