Snow drought afflicted western Canada is currently afflicted by several wildfires. In Saskatchewan alone, over 12,000 people have been forced from their homes. Several fire departments are helping contain blazes in Alberta and B.C., with firefighters coming from as far away as Mexico in Alberta. In B.C., they are using firefighters from across the globe, all the way from Australia. More international aid may be necessary to contain the fires which are threatening homes and harming air quality through vast swaths of the western provinces and the US. Professor Mike Flannigan from the University of Alberta, an expert on wildfires, blames the upsurge in fires on global warming. “I’m not saying every year is going to be a bad fire year,” he says, “but we are going to see a lot more fires on the landscape.” The western Canadian provinces have what are referred to as tinderbox conditions, and they are not alone. The fires are going to be extremely difficult to contain, and new ones can and likely will crop up throughout the summer.
A contained fire is not the same thing as an extinguished fire. For a fire to be contained simply means that it is surrounded by a fire line. Fires require three things to burn and spread. Oxygen, a heat source, and fuel. It is difficult to eliminate oxygen and heat, although these two strategies can be employed. Foam fire extinguishers, there are several different types, suppress oxygen. Water bombing cools fires. The fire line is a trench that firefighters dig around the fuel source. If you have a fire that is 100 units across, and firefighters dig a 10 unit trench, then the fire is 10% contained. The fire cannot spread beyond the trench, or at least it cannot without very heavy winds. Beyond fire lines, they use retardants to mitigate this possibility. The upshot of this discussion is twofold. Firstly, the fact that hundreds of firefighters from all over the world are being flown in to dig these trenches should convey some sense of scale. Secondly, even when all these fires are 100% contained, they may still be burning. In fact, they are expected to be burning until at least fall, at which point the first snowfall will extinguish them. That means that toxic smoke will be around for the whole summer, and parts of the fall as well. This is of course bad news for anyone with respiratory diseases like asthma or COPD.
There are over 800 fires currently burning throughout Canada, mostly in western Canada, controlled to varying degrees. 117 of those fires are listed as uncontrolled. The situation is expected to get even worse next week, despite all the help from the National Guard and abroad. Already we have exceeded the national average for fires, with over 4,672 throughout Caanda, vs. 3,437 in normal years. That is 36% more than usual. While the increase is certainly stunning, it is nothing compared to the area burned with these fires. 2,649,305 ha (6,546,575.2 acres) have burned vs. 1,114,014 (2,752,788.5 acres) as a ten year average. Not only are we having more fires this year, but they are burning more intensely.
Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.