Canada is currently experiencing an unprecedented wildfire season, with massive fires spreading across the country, prompting widespread evacuations. In just six weeks, these wildfires have burned more than 3.3 million acres of land, exceeding the size of the state of Maryland.
While wildfires are common in Canada between May and October, the extent of the destruction so early in the season is highly unusual. Extreme temperatures and drought induced by climate change have created the ideal conditions for these wildfires to ignite and spread rapidly.
The affected regions span central and eastern Canada, primarily in Ontario and Quebec. The fires have generated a significant amount of smoke, which has moved south, reaching the eastern United States, resulting in air pollution and disruptions to air travel.
What started the fires?
Recent record hot and dry conditions, driven by climate change, have created favourable conditions for the ongoing wildfires in Canada. The prolonged fire season can be attributed to the earlier arrival of spring and the later onset of fall, giving more time for fires to spread. The information was shared by Edward Struzik, Fellow at the Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, and author of "Dark Days at Noon, The Future of Fire", as per CBS News.
In 2021, Canada witnessed its hottest temperature on record when Lytton, British Columbia hit a blistering 49.6 degrees Celsius (121 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature broke the previous record of 113º and tied with California's Death Valley for the hottest place in North America on that particular day. These extreme temperatures have contributed to the vulnerability of the landscape.
While lightning is believed to have sparked some fires in Quebec, Ellen Whitman, a forest fire research scientist at Natural Resources Canada, Explained to Halifax that fires caused by lightning generally go unnoticed for longer periods, as they occur in remote areas where the presence human is limited. Therefore, although they account for about half of the ignitions, they tend to cover most of the burned area.
Why Canada wildfires is out of control?
Severe weather conditions provide the perfect fuel for these fast-spreading fires, making them extremely difficult to contain.
With the escalation of the situation, Canada has escalated to "national preparedness level 5", a status that implies the full mobilization of all national resources to fight the fires. As part of this effort, international liaison officers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are being flown in to assist in fighting the fires, said Chris Stockdale, a wildland fire research officer with the Canadian Forest Service.
The United States is also lending a hand, with President Biden announcing the deployment of more than 600 American firefighters, support personnel and equipment to support Canada in its response to the unprecedented wildfires. President Biden has recognized the role of climate change in driving the intensity of these 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.
Unfortunately, the forecasts offer little hope of immediate relief. The Canadian government's updated outlook for the wildfire season indicates a continued high risk of fire activity across most of the country through the remainder of the 2023 season. Ongoing dry conditions and long-term forecasts for temperatures warm weather contribute to this persistent threat.
Early spring dries up ground and prolongs fires in Nova Scotia
Professor Kent Moore of the University of Toronto told Yahoo News! Canada the typical spring fire extinguishing facility in Nova Scotia has been disrupted this year. The early arrival of spring has left the ground drier than usual, allowing fires to burn deep underground. These circumstances resemble the challenges faced during the summer fire season when dry conditions prevail. Moore explains that fighting such fires becomes more arduous as it becomes necessary to dig up the ground to reach the fire.
Why is all this smoke moving into the United States
Smoke from the wildfires in Canada is moving into the United States due to a combination of weather conditions.
A large low-pressure system over Maine, an area of high pressure over the central US, and a stationary front stretching from Minnesota to North Carolina are creating a path for smoke to funnel south. This movement of smoke has resulted in historic air quality alerts in several areas, including New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and western Connecticut, where air quality reached Code Red (unhealthy) levels.
Some parts of New York City and Philadelphia even experienced Code Purple (very unhealthy) conditions. The impact of smoke is of particular concern to sensitive individuals, such as children, older people, and people with respiratory problems, but it is recommended that everyone minimize exposure.
NOAA's polar and geostationary satellites are instrumental in monitoring and tracking wildfires, providing vital information to fire crews, first responders and air traffic controllers.
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