Wildfires are devastating and can lead to so much destruction. There have been a lot of wildfires throughout the world, especially in recent years. Even though Canada is known as a cold country, full of ice and snow, there have still been a lot of wildfires! In fact, each year, there are thousands of wildfires throughout Canada that lead to a lot of destruction of the beautiful landscape in the country. Many people’s homes and communities have also been destroyed by wildfires.
The answer to why there are so many wildfires in Canada is complicated. There are a number of factors that cause wildfires such as Lightning, Human-caused fires, for instance burning waste or a cigarette butt being thrown out a window. Experts are still learning more and more about what causes them, how to fight them, and how to prevent them in the future.
We will look more into the history of wildfires in Canada. Next, we’ll take a look at some of the causes of wildfires, and finally wrap up with what is being done to prevent and fight them.
History of wildfires in Canada
Canada is the second-largest country in the world and covers a large area. A lot of the country is covered in forests, and the country contains 9% of the world’s forest! Given this huge area, it makes sense that it would be greatly affected by wildfires, which are also commonly referred to as forest fires.
Here are some facts about wildfires in Canada:
- There have been over 7,000 forest fires each year in Canada over the last 25 years.
- The total area that is burned by forest fires is about 2.5 million hectares each year.
- It has cost the government of Canada up to $1.5 billion per year to fight forest fires.
- The most recent wildfire season in British Columbia in 2021 was one of the worst on record. According to the CBC, there were 1,600 fires that burned 8,700 square kilometres of land in 2021, making it the third-worst in history in terms of the area that was burned.
- In 2021, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba all had spring evacuation alerts early in the season in some communities. BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario all had above-average fire seasons in 2021.
Causes of wildfires in Canada
Wildfires are caused by both natural and man-made sources. According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2021, a large number of fires were caused by drought that encompassed areas of Ontario all the way west towards BC. There was an extreme drought in Manitoba over the summer.
There was also a heat dome that settled over North America in late June, encompassing most of western Canada. Many areas of the country had record-breaking temperatures. Most notably, the Village of Lytton in British Columbia reached a record-breaking 49.6 degrees celsius, a Canadian record and higher than a city like Las Vegas. This record-breaking temperature led to a devastating fire that destroyed the town of Lytton.
These natural phenomena of drought and high temperatures create the conditions that are perfect for a wildfire to happen. But what actually causes wildfires? The two most common ignitors of wildfires are people and lightning.
Lightning is, of course, a natural phenomenon that can’t be predicted or controlled. It is estimated that lightning causes 45% of all fires. They usually happen in clusters and in remote areas. This means that they can go undetected for longer periods of time, creating more destruction. They account for 81% of the total area burned.
Human-caused fires represent the other 55% of all fires. Human-caused fires can be anything from campfires to burning waste to a cigarette butt being thrown out a window. While some people may have been behaving recklessly, there are also other circumstances where a controlled fire just suddenly got out of control. Because these fires occur in more populated areas, they are usually reported fairly quickly, allowing the firefighters to extinguish them more quickly than those that are in remote areas.
There is a lot of discussion about climate change and how it is impacting our world. Many people, including forest fire researcher Mike Flannigan, believe that climate change will continue to make forest fires more common and devastating. The country is going to have to become familiar with forest fires and learn how to effectively handle them.
Wildfire fighting and prevention
Since wildfires happen across the country of Canada, there has to be a coordinated effort to deal with them. There is a Government Operations Centre that monitors wildfires across the country, coordinating the federal response. However, it is the provincial governments that are responsible for fires within their borders. Many provinces will request additional support from the federal government.
There is also a nonprofit organization, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which coordinates between federal, provincial, and territorial fire management centres to share resources and information or provide aid.
It is also interesting to note that Canada will often work with other countries to share resources and firefighters. Canadian firefighters have been sent abroad to help other countries and accept reciprocal support. In 2021, about 100 firefighters from Mexico helped fight wildfires in British Columbia.
It is a sad reality that there are many wildfires throughout Canada and, unfortunately, are on the rise. Natural conditions of drought and intense heat, which are getting worse because of climate change, create the perfect environment for wildfires to start. Most wildfires are actually started because of human activity, although those are usually easier to put out. Wildfires that cause the most devastation are those started by lightning in remote areas that are hard to reach and put out.
The devastation to both the natural environment and communities of people means that the government of Canada devotes significant resources and effort to fighting wildfires. There are provincial and federal agencies, in addition to non-profits, that are committed to fighting these wildfires. Unfortunately, wildfires are here to stay. For now, all we can do is to be responsible when using fire, respect the rules from authorities, and do our part to fight climate change.