Across many Canadian provinces, wildfires continue to burn. The fires have been so intense that smoke has filled the air in cities like Toronto and New York. As many Canadians question why this wildfire season seems to be out of control, we brought in an expert to explain what’s really happening.
Yan Boulanger is a research scientist in forest ecology with Natural Resources Canada. He explained the cause of the fires is a combination of several factors.
“There are a lot of, currently, lightning-caused fires that are raging in many parts of Quebec for example. In other parts of the country, in the month of May there were a lot of human-caused fires in Alberta,” Boulanger said.
“These human-caused fires are pretty common in the spring. Especially around towns because there are a lot of people that can start the fires accidentally.”
He explained that this year, most of central and northern Canada saw warm conditions throughout the month of May.
“Some places had less than 50 per cent of the [average] precipitation during the month of May, so the vegetation was bone dry when the ignition came in, either human-caused or lightning.”
He also warned that if warm and dry conditions continue this year, the problem could keep getting worse.
“We’re just at the beginning of fire season. So we can expect much more area burned if the conditions are still conducive for the rest of the season.”
Is Climate Change to Blame?
With politicians and activists taking to social media to attribute the ongoing wildfire situation to the climate crisis, what does Boulanger think?
“We know that because of climate change, temperatures are rising. So it gets warmer, it gets drier, and because of that, let’s say in the last seventy years, we know the annual area burned in Canada is increasing a lot.”
Boulanger shared that since the late 1950s to 60s, the area burned by wildfires in Canada has doubled.
“We project with the further increase in temperature and the dry conditions in Canada, that we will see another doubling or maybe four times the area burned that we have observed in the last 30 years. It could get worse in the future.”
“This season, the severity of the season could be 90 per cent attributable to the climate crisis,” he continued.
So What Can We Do?
So on a personal level, what can Canadians do?
“The first thing to do is of course to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. So to have less warming and less fire activity.”
The expert also explained that as a lot of fires are caused by human activity, one thing Canadians can do is be mindful of their local fire bans.
“We have to respect those fire bans, and you know, it works. Because the number of human-caused fires is decreasing in Canada,” he explained.
Boulanger explained how wildfires could impact the ecosystem, and what we may be able to expect from future wildfire seasons on this episode of The Brandon Gonez Show.