Alberta’s ongoing wildfire emergency only looks to get worse in the coming days as a looming heat dome event builds over the western half of the country.
A steep ridge over Western Canada will bring a resurgence of summer-like temperatures this weekend into next week, creating highly favourable conditions for the spark and spread of additional wildfires throughout the hard-hit province.
Visit The Weather Network's wildfire hub to keep up with the latest on the active start to wildfire season across Western Canada.
Residents should prepare now by reviewing emergency preparedness and evacuation plans in the event of nearby fires in the days ahead.
Heat dome to bring a long stretch of summer-like warmth
An unusually warm and dry start to the year placed the province in a dangerous position heading into wildfire season, and a recent spate of summer-like heat fostered the development of several major fires.
Alberta Wildfires has documented more than 400 blazes throughout the province so far this year. The vast majority of those fires started within the past couple of weeks, and officials attributed nearly half of them to human activities.
DEFINED: What is a heat dome?
Rain showers over the past couple of days helped crews get a leg-up on the fires burning across Alberta. That relief proved short-lived, unfortunately, and conditions will make a bad situation even worse this weekend and next week as a heat dome builds over Western Canada.
A very strong upper-level ridge of high pressure will develop over Western Canada this weekend. Strong ridges foster sinking air, which warms up and dries out as it descends toward the ground.
The end result will be a prolonged stretch of very dry and unseasonably hot temperatures centred on hard-hit Alberta.
Starting this weekend and stretching into next week, daytime high temperatures will soar into the upper 20s across Alberta, with many communities facing opportunities to climb into the low-to-mid 30s, especially in northern Alberta. These temperatures are 10-15+ degrees above average for the middle of May, likely threatening records in some areas.
The heat will be accompanied by very low humidity. The combination of high temperatures and low moisture will foster a considerable fire danger throughout the region.
Day after day of sunny, dry, and unseasonably hot conditions will allow for an extreme fire danger to overspread much of Alberta by next week, even spreading into neighbouring sections of western Saskatchewan, northeastern British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories.
WATCH: Why wildfires are growing at a rapid rate this spring in Alberta
Destructive wildfire season shows no signs of relenting
While May is the traditional peak of wildfire season in Alberta, the sheer scope of the wildfires across the province this year is unprecedented.
This year’s fires have collectively consumed nearly half a million hectares of land through May 11, which is more than seven-and-a-half times the total land burned by wildfires through this point in the year over the past five seasons combined.
Tens of thousands of Albertans have been forced from their homes this month as crews rushed to contain out-of-control wildfires as they threatened communities.
Some homes and structures have been damaged by the blazes so far, with significant infrastructure damage reported in the Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation.
“There is substantial damage to the power grid. There are power poles in multiple areas that are down. Our water treatment plant went down due to loss of power,” Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation Chief Sheldon Sunshine told CBC News on Tuesday.
Showers and thunderstorms moving across Alberta this week provided a small window of relief in combating ongoing fires, although widespread lightning could spark additional fires.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Elizabeth Watt.
This article contains files from CBC News.