Canadian wildfires could keep burning through winter -minister

FILE PHOTO: Members of B Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment, conduct firefighting operations near Hay River

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Warm, dry conditions in Canada could ignite new wildfires in September and it is possible that some of the blazes could remain active through the winter season, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said on Thursday.

Canada is enduring its worst wildfire season on record, with over 166,000 square kilometers (64,000 miles), or an area equivalent to four Switzerlands, of land already burnt. As of Thursday, more than 1,000 fires were active across the country, including some 650 deemed out of control.

Fires have engulfed parts of nearly all 13 Canadian provinces and territories this year, forcing home evacuations, disrupting energy production, and drawing in federal, as well as international firefighting resources.

While forest fires are not uncommon in Canada, Wilkinson said climate change was amplifying their frequency and intensity.

"The science is clear: The root cause of this is climate change," Wilkinson told a briefing.

Even as temperatures start to drop with the onset of autumn, "ongoing warm and dry weather may contribute to new fire starts," Wilkinson said, citing new government projections released on Thursday.

The projections indicate higher wildfire risk in September from the east of Alberta, Canada's main oil-producing province, until the center of Ontario, the most populous province.

"There remains a likelihood that some existing fires they continue to be active through September and possibly later into autumn or even winter," Wilkinson said.

Human-caused climate change, driven by fossil fuel use, is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, scientists say, having long warned that government officials must slash emissions to prevent climate disasters.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Aurora Ellis)