In 2016 a forest fire ravaged Fort McMurray.
In 2017 smoke from a record number of BC forest fires triggered an air quality advisory of record length
In 2018 a new record number of forest fires (emphasis added) overwhelmed BC’s current infrastructure for fighting fires. These 2018 fires, which in many instances remain out of control, are causing immense physical damage.
The fires also affected other Western Provinces. The unprecedented amount of smoke extended to the Province of Alberta. This “smog” is dissipating slowly, and doctors predict it will result in respiratory problems for many.
Were these consequences of climate change foreseeable? The answer is clearly “Yes”.
In 2005 the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers commissioned the Wildland Fire Management Working Group to carry out a study and evaluation of the risks of “fire loads” across Canada. This Working Group consulted widely and in 2013 produced a study/evaluation of these rising risks.
The cautious language of the study suggested that, given projections of climate change, the result will be a “. . . strong potential for a more severe fire environment.” The study predicted ” . . . unprecedented fire impacts across Canada in the near future.”
The Working Group summarized its conclusions in these terms:
- Large increases in the geographical extent and frequency of extreme fire danger episodes, particularly in west central Canada.
- Increases in fire season length, with seasons beginning earlier in spring.
- Increasing frequency of more intense, higher severity fires.
- Large increases in area burned (75-120%) across the Canadian boreal zone.
- Significant increases in the frequency of both H-C (Human-Caused) and lightning fires across the boreal zone, with lightning fire numbers expected to increase more than H-C fires.
- A declining capability of Canadian fire management agencies to maintain their current levels of effectiveness if future fire projections are accurate, as models indicate current resource levels would have to be doubled to meet even a modest (e.g. 15%) increase in fire load.
The study concluded:”
The forecast impacts of climate change-driven future fire activity outlined in previous sections raises the question whether current Canadian fire management programs will have the capability to both mitigate and adapt to future fire regimes.”
The Premier of BC described the summer of 2018 as the “new normal”. Yes, a new normal for now – but this new normal will be followed by even more extremes as GHG emissions increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. And larger and larger areas of Canada’s boreal forest – an important carbon sink- will be lost to forest fires.
Canada’s experience with forest fires demonstrates the high cost of doing little to correct climate change. Canadians should WAKE UP and support measures to fight global warming.