Climate experts sound alarm on wildfires amid Halifax, N.S., blaze: 'A part of our future'

"The dry spring weather conditions and the low snowfall amounts over the winter are contributing factors to the duration and extent of these fires"

Climate experts sound alarm on wildfires amid Halifax, N.S., blaze: 'A part of our future'

On Monday, around 16,400 Canadians in Nova Scotia were evacuated from their homes due to several raging wildfires across the province.

Ten wildfires burned throughout Nova Scotia, including the initial 788-hectare fire that broke out on Sunday afternoon in the Tantallon and Hammonds Plains. The municipality stated three wildfires are still "out of control," and thousands remain under a mandatory evacuation order.

"Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by these fires," Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said. "We know you are experiencing uncertainty and distress. We see that and want to try to ease a small portion of the financial stress."

Although the cause of the fires has yet to be investigated by local authorities, Halifax-based climate scientist Dr. Jeffrey Taylor has one theory: "The dry spring weather conditions and the low snowfall amounts over the winter are contributing factors to the duration and extent of these fires."

Across the province, Taylor says children, elderly residents, and those with lung conditions have experienced some respiratory irritation.

"One of my daughters is asthmatic, and I have never seen her rely on her puffer so much as she has over the last few days," he told Yahoo Canada.

An aircraft (centre) disperses a mix of water and fire retardant over a fire near Barrington Lake in Shelburne County, N.S. in this Wednesday, May 31, 2023 handout photo. As an unprecedented string of wildfires in Nova Scotia continued to burn out of control Wednesday, thousands of residents forced to flee their homes spent a fourth day wondering what their neighbourhoods will look like when they return home.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Communications Nova Scotia **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Ellen Whitman is a forest fire research scientist for National Resources Canada. She says a wildfire starts when a heated source is ignited by either lightning or a human cause, such as fuels, large areas of conifer or needle-leaf forests, and oxygen.

"In Nova Scotia, most fires are human-caused," she added.

"The number of fires and area burned in the province are well above the average for this time of year, relative to the past 10 years."

Taylor says the forecasted fire risk severity for Nova Scotia this summer was average, which is why "to see such extreme wildfires in Nova Scotia this early in the year is concerning."

So far this year, more than 2 million hectares of land burned across Canada in blazing wildfires, according to the National Wildland Fire Situation Report.

Wildfire risks are still raging across the country due to extremely dry conditions. As of Wednesday morning, there were 61 active wildfires burning in Alberta, 16 of which are still out of control due to extremely hot and dry conditions. Saskatchewan reports 20 active fires, with eight of them being out of control, while British Columbia is managing 55 active wildfires.

From the lingering Canadian fires, some U.S. states are now blanketed in smoke. Even Ontario skies were hazy after winds drifted smoke from Alberta fires into the province.

Whitman says spring is a high-risk season for wildfires in some Canadian regions due to strong winds and dry fuels like broadleaf trees, grasses, and shrubs.

"Some parts of Atlantic Canada have been in a mild to moderate drought this spring, and this, combined with warm weather and wind, seems to have made this fire season start off more aggressively than we are used to, throughout much of Canada," she told Yahoo Canada.

Taylor notes that the effects of climate change are likely to make wildfires more frequent and severe due to increasing global temperatures, drought frequency, and changes in precipitation patterns.

"Unfortunately, wildfires will become more and more a part of our future," he said.

Halifax fires still have not been tamed after four days, and thousands of residents cannot return home until notice from the province. Officials have cautioned Nova Scotians of bad air quality risks from the wildfire smoke in the air.

With the increase in erupting wildfires, Canadians worry about the sharp impacts of climate change.

One Twitter user posted: "The smell of smoke is heavy today. My climate anxiety is out of control. I don't know how people in other provinces have been dealing with this. My heart is breaking for the families who have lost their homes both in Halifax and Shelburne County."