How did the wildfires start in Canada? A look at what’s fueling the fires that have blanketed the East Coast in smoke

Over the past six weeks, massive wildfires have swept across Canada prompting mass evacuations and burning more than 3.3 million acres of land, larger than the state of Maryland.

While Canada’s fire season runs from May to October, such destruction early in the season is rare. A month later, Canada is on track to have its most destructive wildfire season in history. Extreme temperatures and drought caused by climate change have created a powder keg.

This Canadian crisis has not been limited to the Far North. Smoke from the wildfires spread across much of the United States, affecting air quality for millions across the East Coast, as wildfires rage with no signs of stopping.

Why is Canada burning?

Hot, dry conditions are like firewood for fires. Much of Canada, like the rest of North America, has recently experienced record heat and drought as climate change continues to warm the planet.

Late last month, Canada experienced its hottest day ever when Lytton, British Columbia hit 49.6 degrees Celsius, 121 degrees Fahrenheit, shattering the previous record by 113 degrees. It bound Death Valley in California as the hottest place in North America that day.

In the Canadian prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – where fires are now raging – the drought has hit particularly hard. According to the Canada Drought Monitor, all 10 provinces are experiencing abnormal drought, moderate or severe drought.

According to the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System, the destruction caused by these fires up to this point in the season was 13 times worse than the 10-year average.

While New York City choked under thick smog it turned the skies orange and wrapped its skyscrapers and the Statue of LibertySen. Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday that climate change is causing smoke to blanket the East Coast.

“These wildfires in Canada are truly unprecedented, and we cannot ignore that climate change continues to make these disasters worse,” he said. “Hotter temperatures and severe droughts mean forests are burning faster, hotter and bigger, and warming is happening at a faster rate in countries with higher latitudes. None of this – none of this is a coincidence “.

How did the wildfires start in Canada?

Dry, hot weather also generates more lightning. In a normal season, half of the fires in Canada are caused by lightning, but these fires account for more than 85% of the fire destruction. The other half is man-made.

In Quebec, for example, fires were started by lightning strikes, but Alberta officials said the cause of the fires was currently unknown. In other parts of the country, these fires have been man-made in a variety of ways, from discarded cigarette butts to sparks from passing trains.

Why are the wildfires in Canada out of control?

Harsh weather conditions are fueling these rapidly spreading fires, making them extremely difficult to fight.

The country is currently at “national preparedness level 5,” meaning that Canada has committed all of its national resources to mobilizing firefighting.

Chris Stockdale, a forest fire research officer with the Canadian Forest Service, told CBS News late last month that, as part of that “level 5” declaration, “international liaison officers” from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are arriving to help fight the fires.

Firefighters are also arriving from the United States, President Biden said Wednesday, pointing to climate change as the cause of the wildfires.

“We have deployed more than 600 US firefighters, support personnel and equipment to support Canada as it responds to recorded wildfires, events which are intensifying due to the climate crisis,” he said. in a tweet.

And the forecasts are hopeless. On Monday, the Canadian government released an updated forecast for the wildfire season saying “Current June projections indicate the potential for continued above-normal wildfire activity across much of the country during the 2023 wildfire season due to of the ongoing drought and the long-range forecast for warm temperatures.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the previous record temperature. It’s 113 degrees.


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