Wildfires in Canada have burned a staggering 25 million acres so far this year, an area roughly the size of Kentucky.
With more than a month of peak fire season left to go, 2023 has already eclipsed Canada’s previous annual record from 1989, when over 18 million acres were scorched. And the country’s worst wildfire season on record continues to rage.
Hot, dry conditions have fueled widespread wildfires, mostly in Canada’s boreal forests, since the spring, with some of the largest blazes burning in northwest Canada and in Quebec.
The fires have forced more than 120,000 people to evacuate their homes, stretched firefighting resources, and repeatedly darkened the skies and polluted the air for millions of people across North America.
International fire crews, including more than 1,800 firefighters and support staff from the United States, have been mobilized to help battle the flames since May, but the size and ferocity of the blazes have often hampered their efforts even as many of the largest, most remote fires have been left to burn.
Over the past week, two Canadian firefighters were killed on duty just days apart.
High temperatures in the spring helped the fire season get off to an intense early start. A heat wave baked British Columbia and Alberta in mid-May, exacerbating several early wildfires.
In early June, multiple fires broke out in Quebec amid record heat and rapidly intensified. By the end of the month, June was recorded as the planet’s hottest month ever, and some of the world’s most anomalous temperatures were found in northern Canada.
Studies directly linking climate change to this year’s wildfires have not yet been carried out, but the 2023 fire season is in line with scientists’ understanding of how global warming is affecting wildfires.
That doesn’t mean that quieter wildfire years, such as last year, are no longer possible, Flanningan said, but a warmer world makes large, explosive wildfires more likely than they were in the past.
This year’s hot, dry conditions have contributed to extreme fire behavior, too. More than 100 times over the past three months.
Canadian wildfires have grown sufficiently large and powerful to produce their own weather, kicking up giant thunderclouds known as pyrocumulonibus, and injecting smoke high into the atmosphere. These events can help transport smoke over very long distances.
The previous most active year for such extreme fire weather in Canada was 2021, which had fewer than half as many pyroCbs, as they are more commonly called, over the entire season.
Forecasts for the rest of the summer suggest that higher-than-normal fire activity is likely to continue across much of Canada, which could mean more heat, more fires and more smoke ahead.
The New York Times ABC Flash Point News 2023.