What’s causing the wildfires in Canada?

Much of Canada is engulfed in hazardous smoke due to out-of-control wildfires blazing across the country.

There have been 2,214 wildfires in Canada so far this year and they’ve burned over 7 million acres of land.

Canadian wildfires have also blanketed the North eastern United States in smoke and "a dystopian haze" prompting health warnings from officials to remain indoors.

We spoke to Jaclyn Whittal, a meteorologist at The Weather Network, to learn exactly what’s causing these fires.

Video Transcript


JACLYN WHITTAL: So the overall cause of these fires really comes from our jet stream pattern. And we have seen, for the month of May, our jet stream dominate a pattern that has brought lots of heat across the country. In fact, most of Canada, we have seen above average temperatures for the month of May. We call those temperature anomalies. They differ from the norm.

In addition to the heat that we've seen, we've also seen dry conditions. They tend to go hand in hand. So when you get a ridge of high pressure, which means sinking air and an abundance of sunshine, you're not getting-- other than maybe some thunderstorms sometimes, you're not getting any rainy systems to mitigate the risk. So the problem is that we've seen two major blocking high pressure systems in the last maybe 30 days or so.

One started closer to the Great Lakes. We had a high pressure area over the Great Lakes. We call it a Rex block. It's a high pressure over top or north of a low pressure system stateside. And what happened was, that stalled for several days. So areas like Ontario and Quebec got extremely warm, abnormally warm for this time of year. And that was probably the start there.

Conversely, if we look at the West, I live in British Columbia. We're no stranger to fires. But we've even seen an early start to the season here in British Columbia and Alberta, and same kind of issue. We had that stalling high pressure, a different system called a Rex block, as of late that has stalled over the central parts of Canada. And even earlier before that, we had several days of 30 degree temperatures and above. And very dry conditions usually means a recipe for natural disasters, like fires.


[INAUDIBLE] our number one cause, next to human-caused fires-- and that could be other things like campfires and cigarette butts being thrown out. But the other big risk, of course, are thunderstorms and lightning. We get what we call dry lightning. So there's not a lot of precipitation associated to the thunderstorm, but multiple lightning strikes can hit trees and start fires. And in fact, in Quebec, we saw that quite a bit of thunderstorm activity and lightning triggered a lot of fires all at once.

Climate change is certainly a part of this. We can't blame it 100%, but it's definitely a part of this. The more stalled out weather patterns with the jet stream that we see, these blocking patterns, only make the fire situation worse. So I think it's a combination of factors. And all of those factors unfortunately came together in the month of May to create a really awful situation. But whether you believe in climate change or not, personally, I don't think we're at the stage anymore where we need to say whether we believe or not. Climate change is happening, and it's happening now. And we're seeing the effects.