Canada risks more ‘catastrophic’ wildfires with hot weather forecast

Estimated read time 2 min read

Canada risks another “catastrophic” wildfire season, the federal government has warned, forecasting higher-than-normal spring and summer temperatures across much of the country, boosted by El Niño weather conditions.

Last year, Canada endured its worst-ever fire season, with more than 6,600 blazes burning 15m hectares (37m acres), an area roughly seven times the annual average. Eight firefighters died and 230,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

This winter the country experienced warmer-than-normal temperatures and widespread drought, setting the stage for another punishing summer.

“The temperature trends are very concerning. With the heat and dryness across the country, we can expect that the wildfire season will start sooner and end later and potentially be more explosive,” Harjit Sajjan, the minister for emergency preparedness, said at a press conference.

Federal ministers warned climate change was contributing to more extreme weather events, including wildfires, drought and heatwaves.

“Wildfires have always occurred across Canada. What’s new is their frequency and their intensity,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, the minister for energy and natural resources. “The science is clear. The root cause of this is climate change.“

Ottawa is providing C$256m (US$187.15m) over five years, a sum matched by the country’s provinces and territories, to fund new equipment, and has also committed to training an extra 1,000 community-based wildfire firefighters.

Last year, Canada deployed 5,500 international firefighters from countries including South Africa and Spain and 2,135 armed forces members to help tackle the blazes.

Severe weather, including wildfires, caused more than C$3.1bn in insured damages in 2023, according to a government analysis.

The government of British Columbia warned in a separate update that the westernmost province’s snowpack – an accumulation of snow that melts seasonally – is averaging its lowest level since 1970, measuring 63% of normal versus 88% of normal at the same time last year.

“Typically drought and wildfire go hand in hand,” said Jonathan Boyd, a hydrologist at the province’s River Forecast Centre. “It’s not setting up to be a great season but it still depends on what the weather conditions are [this spring].”


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