Canada facing ‘deeply concerning’ wildfire season: Official

With 82 blazes burning out of control, Canada confronts a record early wildfire season that has scorched 2.7 million hectares.

Canada wildfires
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency firefighter Zach Rafuse works to put out fires in the Tantallon area of Nova Scotia, one of Canada's eastern provinces [Nova Scotia Government/AFP]

Canada is facing its most severe early wildfire season on record, with 211 wildfires burning and 82 classified as out of control, the country’s minister of public safety said.

Speaking during a news conference on Thursday, Bill Blair explained that tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba and Ontario, including “many from Indigenous communities”.

All told, he said there had been 1,826 fires in the country in 2023, burning 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) of land — equivalent to more than 5 million football fields.

“These conditions, this early in the season, are unprecedented,” he said. “Due to climate change, similar extreme weather events may continue to increase in both frequency and severity across our country.”

Blair added, “I’d like to acknowledge the incredible human impact that these disasters have on Canadians. Many have lost their homes, their livelihoods and, in some cases, their entire communities.”

As he spoke, firefighters continued to battle blazes in the eastern province of Nova Scotia, which was also facing its most severe wildfires on record.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government had approved late Wednesday the province’s request for assistance and that Canadian Armed Forces had been deployed to the area.

“We’ll continue to make sure Nova Scotians have the support they need,” he said in a tweet.

By Thursday, Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said 16 fires continued to burn, with the largest near Barrington Lake in Shelburne County. That blaze has consumed more than 18,000 hectares (44,480 acres) and is still classified as out of control.

In a tweet, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nova Scotia said that about 40 percent of Shelburne County had been evacuated, with several streets closed amid smoky conditions and low visibility.

No fatalities were immediately reported since the Nova Scotia blazes sparked on Sunday. Provincial authorities said more than 20,000 people had evacuated.

Officials on Wednesday gave a more promising outlook for a fire burning in the neighbouring province of New Brunswick. Roger Collet, a wildfire management officer with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, told local media that the blaze was still considered out of control but had become more manageable.

Air quality warnings have been issued across the area, with several regions nearby in the northeastern United States also warning of poor air quality. About 300 firefighters from the US and South Africa would soon be joining the effort to bring Canada’s fires under control, authorities said.

Firefighters also continued to battle blazes in Canada’s western reaches, where wildfires peaked in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta during unusually warm temperatures in mid-May.

In a video posted on Facebook, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam said more than 1,000 people had been evacuated from the remote hamlet of Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta as of Wednesday.

“We’re going to stay behind, and we’re going to help protect the community in ways that we can,” he said.

While experts have long attributed the extreme weather events, in part, to climate change, the issue has remained politically fraught in Canada.

Following her election victory earlier this week, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith of the United Conservative Party (UCP) called on supporters to stand “shoulder to shoulder” against a raft of proposed federal policies aiming to cut carbon emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2030, including through caps on oil and gas emissions.

Alberta produces the majority of Canada’s oil and is also the country’s highest-polluting province.

Source: Al Jazeera