Canada’s Raging Fires Have Burned the Equivalent of Alabama

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Wildfires continue to rage in Canada, burning twice as much land as any previous season, an area equivalent to Alabama or nine Connecticuts. The blazes have charred nearly 33 million acres (13.3 million hectares) across the country, with hundreds of large fires still burning.

The situation is not improving. Fires from coast-to-coast have stretched firefighting forces thin, requiring help from the Canadian military. Several massive conflagrations in the Northwest Territories have imperiled a number of towns and forced evacuations, while scorching homes and threatening the capital of Yellowknife.

Canada’s national wildfire preparedness scale, which measures the need for firefighting resources, has been stuck at Level 5 out of 5 since May 11, shortly after the first barrage of blazes erupted. Over the past three months, it has become a fight akin to whack-a-mole: As soon as one major fire is knocked back, another appears in a different location.

Record-challenging heat — intensified by human-caused climate change — has combined with long-term drought to fuel the flames.

The land area burned in perspective

The fires have consumed so much land that it’s hard to comprehend, but here are some comparisons that help put the vastness in perspective:

  • It is more than three times the area burned during the worst fire season in modern records in the United States. In 2015, 10.1 million U.S. acres (4.1 million hectares) were lost.
  • The size of its destruction is approaching the entire area burned during the five seasons from 2018 to 2022 in the United States (38.2 million acres or 15.5 million hectares), which included several major wildfire years.
  • Of U.S. states, Alabama is closest in size to the area burned in Canada. New York is the state most recently surpassed. The burned area could approach the size of North Carolina.
  • The area is roughly equal to most of New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and half of Maine) — or 9.2 Connecticuts.
  • It is a little more than 838 Washington, D.C.s.

The current fire situation

Over the past week, the focus of the most intense wildfire activity has been in the Northwest Territories and Quebec. Both regions have added at least 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) to their total area burned this year, with numbers likely lagging actual due to the regions’ remoteness as well as the rapidly evolving nature of the firestorms.

One hundred additional firefighters from the Canadian military are set to join the battle in the Northwest Territories, along with 24 logistics personnel and several aircraft, according to the Associated Press.

Late Tuesday, the government of Northwest Territories declared a territorial state of emergency. More than 230 fires were ongoing there, with more than 5.2 million acres (2.1 million hectares) burned to date. The terrorial total alone is equal to the average fire season in all of Canada.

“The decision to declare a territory-wide State of Emergency allows the Government of the Northwest Territories and our partners to access and deploy resources so that we can continue our work to protect residents and communities,” Shane Thompson, minister of environment and climate change, said in a news release. “We find ourselves in a crisis situation, and our government is using every tool available to assist.”

Parts of the territorial capital of Yellowknife, roughly 600 miles north of Edmonton, were placed under evacuation alert Tuesday evening, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The alert is precautionary, but an upgrade would force rapid action.

The fire threatening Yellowknife is not expected to reach the city of 20,000 people, but erratic winds have been problematic in recent days, with flames already advancing closer than initially anticipated.

Enterprise, a small town on the opposite side of Great Slave Lake to the south of Yellowknife, was not so fortunate. Local reports indicate that 90 percent of the hamlet was destroyed as fire ripped through the area just north of the border with Alberta.

At least 6,500 people have been evacuated from various parts of the Northwest Territories, including many by the military, the BBC reported.

Smoke making a comeback?

The fires have generated enormous amounts of smoke, some of which has poured into the Lower 48 states at times. On Wednesday, unhealthy to hazardous air quality is mainly concentrated in fires in western Canada, as well as parts of Ontario and Quebec.

Several of the fires in Quebec have flared up again recently after being knocked back by cooler and wetter weather. The new activity has sent some smoke as far southward as Detroit and Buffalo, with the main effects staying north of the international border.

Other patches of wildfire smoke hovered over the upper Great Lakes, parts of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies into the northern Plains. In the northwestern United States, significant wildfire smoke was also coming from large fires in Oregon, Washington state and Northern California. Near Bend, Ore., air quality was very unhealthy to hazardous early Wednesday because of a nearby blaze, with the smoke forecast to linger into Thursday.

Connected to the Canadian fires, smoke near and east of the Great Lakes region should lift northward as a low-pressure area passes the region through Friday. After that, however, winds pointing from Canada southward should open the door for some smoke to return.

In Canada’s west, some wetter weather is possible through the weekend, possibly aiding firefighting efforts. Although winds could fan flames in some areas. Into next week, the forecast calls for hot, dry weather, fostering renewed fire risks.

Source : The Washington Post