Canadian firefighter dies as record wildfire season continues

Firefighter dies battling blaze in British Columbia, union says, as more than 900 fires are still burning across Canada.

Smoke rises from a wildfire in BC, Canada
Smoke rises from the Texas Creek wildfire south of Lillooet, British Columbia, Canada, July 9, 2023 [File: BC Wildfire Service/Handout via Reuters]

A Canadian firefighter has died fighting a wildfire in the western province of British Columbia, a local union said, as the country continues to grapple with record blazes.

In a brief statement early on Friday, the BC General Employees Union (BCGEU) said the firefighter – who was not identified by name – died combatting a wildfire outside of Revelstoke, a town about 560km (347 miles) northeast of Vancouver, on Thursday.

“Our hearts and thoughts go out to her family and community, both at home and in the BC Wildfire Service,” the union said.

Canada has faced a record start to the 2023 fire season, with massive wildfires forcing thousands to evacuate their homes in several parts of the country and sending thick plumes of smoke to the United States and Europe.

More than 900 fires are currently burning across the country, including 570 considered out of control.

British Columbia recently ordered new evacuations due to the blazes and requested the help of 1,000 more international firefighters. About 2,000 firefighters are battling more than 350 fires across the province.

“It is very, very challenging across Canada and across the globe right now to secure additional firefighting capacity,” BC Fire Department spokesman Cliff Chapman said on Thursday.

“This is a very dangerous job,” he said. “With the conditions we are in, it makes it all that much more dangerous for our staff who are working 14-, 16-, 20-hour days.”

There are currently three wildfires burning within 48km (30 miles) of Revelstoke, and two are considered out of control, Canadian public broadcaster CBC reported.

With 22.2 million acres (nine million hectares) already gone up in smoke – 11 times the average for the last decade – the annual record set in 1989 has been surpassed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed condolences to the BC firefighters’ loved-ones and colleagues on Friday. “We must never forget the risks these heroes take every time they run toward the danger,” he tweeted.

Last month, Canada’s minister of public safety, Bill Blair, said the forecast for the summer months showed the potential for “higher-than-normal fire activity” in the country.

“The images that we have seen so far this season are some of the most severe ever witnessed in Canada,” Blair said.

Several areas – including BC, Alberta and the Northwest Territories in the west, to Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the east – have battled wildfires over the past several weeks.

Experts have pointed to climate change as worsening the size and scope of wildfires in Canada and around the world, as high temperatures and other factors lead to earlier and more destructive fire seasons.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies