Raging Wildfires Force Evacuations in Western Canada
Massive Fort McMurray wildfires torching 750+ hectares
Wildfires causing evacuation notices for hundreds in Alberta and BC, Canada, as crews continue to battle several blazes and experts say the dry temperatures could make for a long and brutal fire season.
A wildfire raging in Fort McMurray prompted mandatory evacuation orders for Prairie Creek and Centennial Trailer Park and a voluntary evacuation is being encouraged in Gregoire. While fires in BC, have led to evacuation notices for several communities.
The early start to the wildfire season has already led to 296 fires in Alberta, according to the province’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. There has been approximately 181 fires in BC.
“It’s way drier this year than it’s been for a long, long time,” said an Alberta regional Fire Chief Monday. “It’s really dry. We need to have discussions on what we can do about trying to encourage people not to light fires and go out in the bush.
“Wildfires have certainly come more ferociously in the years gone by. We have had 4 significant fires in the last 5 days or so and that is pretty intense.”
Experts are blaming the El Nino effect, which causes warmer and drier winters, for accelerating wildfire activity across rural Western Canada.
“Because spring came about a month early here, we are already in the middle of our prime fire season for the spring,” said Mike Flannigan, a wildfire expert at the University of Alberta. “Given the already dry conditions means it’s easier for fires, once they sustain themselves, to go underground until it gets windy and they re-appear.”
Mr. Flannigan said conditions have been so dry some fires have burned 2 metres into the ground, forcing firefighters to dig out the fires or flood the ground with water.
“The wildfire season is off to a very active start. Is the rest of the season going to be like this? It’s hard to tell,” he said. “But if you believe the seasonal forecasts and the fact that El Nino is still kicking around, odds are we are going to have a very active fire season.”
Last year’s season was historically devastating: 7,068 wildfires burned roughly 4-M hectares of land, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. The overwhelming fires also saw crews from Australia and the UC come to help their Canadian counterparts.
A professor in the faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Lethbridge, said the effects of climate change are also driving the increase in wildfires, and it is not going to get better in the future.
“The whole aspect of climate change and global warming, which is then interrelated things such as insect infestation, so Mt. Pine Beetle increases because it’s not a cold enough Winter,” she said. “The trees are infested with beetles and worms and drier and more prone to fire.
“In general, we’ve had less rainfall; we didn’t really have a Winter this year. And so consequently we have a very dry environment.”
In BC, the Dean of University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry, said the biggest worry for the province is the limited snow pack.
“Certainly in the BC interior there isn’t much snow pack, so the amount of snow that is available is very little and as a result we will see ecosystems drying out quite quickly early in the season,” said UBC professor. “That could be a signal of very severe fires to come.
“The shortage of snow in the interior is an El Nino related phenomenon.”
Alberta wildfire officials got a jump on the long and busy season by declaring 1 March as the official start date to the forest fire season, up 1 month from the traditional start date of 1 April.
The official date requires Albertans to get permits for any burning, and training for wildfire crews to begin.
“It puts it in the public’s mind that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, we all need to be careful,” she said.
Mr. Flannigan also said education on fire prevention and fire bans or restrictions are necessary in fighting the upcoming fire season.
Be very careful traveling through, camping and day tripping in the forest this fire season, your life depends on it.
Have a terrific week.