Canada is preparing for what could be its most severe wildfire season to date, with 2,214 fires already recorded this year, burning an area roughly equivalent to the size of Belgium. Forecasters predict the risk of wildfires will escalate in June and remain unusually high throughout the summer. Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal natural resources minister, described the season’s projections as “sobering” during a news conference on Monday.
Officials stated in a Monday briefing that the number of wildfires experienced by Canada so far this year is “unprecedented” for this early in the wildfire season, which typically spans from May to September. The fires have burned over 3.3 million hectares of land across the country, approximately 12 times more than the average over the past decade. A warmer and drier spring than usual has been cited as the cause of this trend. With these warm and dry conditions expected to persist throughout the summer, the risk of wildfires remains high from the west coast province of British Columbia to Atlantic Canada in the east. If the trend continues, the country could witness its largest area ever burned by wildfires.
“Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildland fires and creating longer fire seasons in Canada,” said Michael Norton, director general of the Northern Forestry Centre at Canada’s Department of Natural Resources.
As of Sunday, there were 413 wildfires burning across Canada, with 249 considered to be out of control. Wildfires have led to the evacuation of 100,000 people nationwide to date. Although many have returned to their homes, officials stated that around 26,000 people are still under evacuation across seven different provinces and territories.
A wildfire near Halifax, the largest city in Nova Scotia, was contained over the weekend with the assistance of rainy weather, according to the province’s natural resources department. The fire destroyed over 200 homes and structures and forced the evacuation of 16,000 people. Some have since been able to return home. New fires have erupted elsewhere, including in the province of Quebec, where around 164 fires are active as of Monday, forcing more than 10,000 residents to evacuate.
In addition to local firefighters, Canada has deployed its military across the country to help combat the wildfires. Nearly 1,000 firefighters from other countries, including the US, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, are also on the ground to assist. Over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that his country would be sending an additional 100 firefighters to Quebec.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau characterised the current wildfire situation in the country as “difficult and heart-breaking.” Numerous burn bans have been implemented across the country, and officials have warned Canadians to exercise extra caution in areas deemed at high risk of wildfires.
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