Fire Fighting in Canada

Comment: Wildfire season is underway

March 23, 2023 
By Laura Aiken

Wildfire season is underway, with Alberta’s official March 1 start commencing with a test emergency alert throughout the province. 

Around the world, wildfires are increasing. In the U.S., the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions reported that changes in climate have contributed to a doubling in the number of large fires between 1984 and 2015 in the western part of the country. Southeastern U.S. modelling anticipates at least a 30 per cent increase in area burned by lightening-ignited wildfires from 2011 to 2060. And once they start, the hotter, crispier conditions wrought by a warming planet make them even harder to put out. 

In 2022, The United Nations Environment Programme predicted a 50 per cent increase in the number of wildfires by 2100. The UN noted that even the once immune Arctic is facing wildfire risk. Climate and land-use change are considered the likely the triggers. The World Resources Institute gathered data that showed 2021 to one of the worst years for tree loss globally since the turn of the century, with 9.3 million hectares lost to fire. 

The Canadian government issued a resource updated in 2022 that noted the difficulty in pinpointing whether the changes in wildfire patterns are directly a result of climate change, considering the influence of additional factors such as land use, vegetation composition and suppression efforts. Despite this difficulty in establishing a clear link, the government reported that “pattern changes do appear to be underway.” The northwestern boreal forest has steadily been burning more over the last half of the 20th century, but fires in the southern boreal forest have decreased, possibly due to more precipitation. Climate change is expected to cause more frequent fires in Canada that could potentially double the acreage burned by the end of the century. Importantly, the government summarizes: “There is growing consensus that as wildland fire activity increases, fire agency suppression efforts will be increasingly strained.” 


Canadian government modelling predicts that most regions can expect at least a 2-fold increase in yearly area burned and 1.5-fold rise in the incidence of significant fires by the end of the 21st century, which would mostly cause a rise in wildfires during June, July and August, in particular during the 2041–2070 and 2071–2100 periods. This would, of course, have significant impacts on the landscape and communities. 

The resources needed to adapt to this increasing wildfire burden, and the resilience required to defend against the dangers they pose to communities affected by the wildland urban interface, are amongst the top concerns in wildfire fighting today. This edition’s cover story looks at the evolving nature of fighting these mammoth fires. Continue to look to Fire Fighting in Canada to keep this conversation going through our Wildfire Week sponsored by Waterax running in April. This digital content week focuses on all things wildfire. Stay tuned for this and more throughout the wildfire season. 


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