Friday, June 21, 2024
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Home » How Did the Canadian Wildfires Start? A Look at What’s Driving the Fires that Covered the East Coast in Smoke

How Did the Canadian Wildfires Start? A Look at What’s Driving the Fires that Covered the East Coast in Smoke

by Grayson Henderson
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Over the past six weeks, massive wildfires have spread across Canada causing mass evacuations and burning through more than 3.3 million hectares of land — larger than the state of Maryland. 

While the Canada wildfire season runs from May through October, such destruction this early in the season is rare. One month in, Canada is on track to have its most destructive wildfire season in history. Climate change-driven extreme temperatures and drought have created a tinderbox

This Canadian crisis has not been limited to the Great North. Smoke from the fires has spread across a large portion of the U.S., affecting air quality for millions across the East Coast, as the fires rage on without signs of stopping. 

Why is Canada burning? 

Warm and dry conditions are like kindling for wildfires. Much of Canada, like the rest of North America, has experienced record heat and drought recently 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, smashing the previous record of 113 degrees. It tied California’s Death Valley as the hottest place in North America that day. 

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

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

As New York City suffocated under a thick smog that turned the skies orange and shrouded its skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty, Sen. Chuck Schumer said on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday that climate change was driving the smoke blanketing the Eastern seaboard.

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

How did the fires in Canada start?

Dry, hot weather also breeds more lightning. In a normal season, half of Canada’s wildfires are started by lightning, but those fires account for more than 85% of wildfire destruction. The other half are human-caused. 

In Quebec, for example, fires were sparked by lightning, but officials in Alberta have said that the cause of fires there is currently unknown. Elsewhere in the country, these fires have been human-caused in various ways from discarded cigarette butts to sparks from passing trains. 

Why are the Canadian wildfires out of control?

Harsh weather conditions are fueling these fast-spreading fires, making them extremely difficult to combat. 

The country is currently at “national preparedness level 5,” meaning Canada has fully committed all its national resources to mobilize the fight against the fires.

Chris Stockdale, a wildland 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 flying in to help fight the fires. 

Firefighters are also coming from the U.S., President Biden said Wednesday, pointing to climate change as a driver of the fires.

“We’ve deployed more than 600 U.S. firefighters, support personnel, and equipment to support Canada as they respond to record wildfires – events that are intensifying because of the climate crisis,” he said in a tweet.

And forecasts hold little hope. On Monday, the Canadian government issued an updated outlook for the wildfire season stating that, “current June projections indicate the potential for continued higher-than-normal fire activity across most of the country throughout the 2023 wildland fire season due to ongoing drought and long-range forecasts for warm temperatures.”

Source : CBS

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