Wildfire season in Western Canada off to an early, destructive start

The wildfire season in Western Canada is off to an early and destructive start and it shows no signs of stopping.

Fort McMurray, Alta., which is under a mandatory evacuation order, is getting the brunt of the damage, but multiple fires are burning throughout the province and in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Daniel Thompson, a forest fire research scientist with Canadian Forest Service, part of Natural Resources Canada, says the heat and dry air in the western provinces is “far ahead of where we normally are” and has contributed to the earlier start to the spring fire season.

Wildfires have been burning in northeastern B.C. since early April, Thompson said, and the blaze that travelled into Fort McMurray started on Sunday.

“We’ve had a warm spring and we lost our snow early,” Thompson says.

In Saskatchewan, there were 13 fires burning as of Tuesday morning and there have already been 102 wildfires in the province.

In Alberta, there is some level of fire restriction throughout the province, and fires are banned in forested area, the province states. As of Wednesday morning, there were 35 fires burning with two considered out of control.

Thompson says that what this early start means for the summer fire season is largely uncertain.

“The fire forecast prediction for much of Alberta over to Atlantic provinces is just for above average for the remainder of the summer,” he says.

The predicted El Nino weather for this summer adds to the challenges in predicting what’s to come, Thompson says.

In its spring weather forecast, the Weather Network predicted warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Great Lakes and into Atlantic Canada, but the West isn’t expected to be overly warm.

“The West will still have its share of hot and dry weather, but excessive heat and drought should not be as big of a concern as it was during the past two summers,” the forecast states.

Spring fires are commonly caused by humans, Thompson says, which means the fires weren’t started by lightning. This is because conditions in spring are dryer and fires can be sparked by ATV mufflers, fallen trees, power lines or even by discarded cigarettes, he says.

In the summer, fires are more likely to be started by lightning, Thompson says.