Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Forestry experts hope clear, blue skies hold over Western Canada as unprecedented hot weather pushes wildfire risks to levels just as record-breaking.

“The silver lining to this current heat wave thus far is that it’s so hot and it’s such a stable atmosphere that it’s suppressing lightning activity,” University of Alberta wildfire scientist Mike Flannigan said Monday.

“If there’s no ignition, we don’t have a problem.”

Story continues below advertisement

That’s a big if.

A community in central British Columbia broke Canada’s all-time heat record Sunday with a temperature of 46 C and even northerly cities like Edmonton are expected to near the 40 C mark this week. Those temperatures have much of the west nervously eyeing the sky for a spark that could touch off dust-dry forests.

“Temperatures are in uncharted territory,” said Yan Boulanger, a forest ecologist for Natural Resources Canada. “Those indices for forest fire are very, very high right now.”

Just a couple weeks ago, the department’s wildfire risk maps showed most of Western Canada to be at average or even below-average risk. No longer.

“I would say they are extremely extreme right now,” Boulanger said.

So far, wildfires haven’t been a major problem. Although 19 fires have sprung up in B.C. over the last two days, most remain under five hectares in size.

“It’s nice to see our initial attack crews have had that success,” said Jean Strong of the B.C. Wildfire Service.

Story continues below advertisement

She said the service is already positioning crews where the heat has been greatest. Airplanes are flying over forests looking for smoke and wardens and enforcement officers are monitoring human behaviour on the ground.

When it’s this hot and dry, preparedness and early attack are key, Flannigan said.

“If they get to the fire when it’s still small, you can put it out.

“But when you get extreme conditions like we’re seeing, that window is 20 minutes. You’ve got 20 minutes to put that fire out, then look out.”

Alberta is facing this year’s fire season with new technology such as drone aircraft and gels that enhance water’s fire-extinguishing capacity. The province cut staffing for fire lookout towers in 2019, but a statement from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said the government has invested in other tools.

“Alberta Wildfire is always adapting and improving firefighting techniques and technologies from around the world.”

Story continues below advertisement

In a release, the ministry said artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing and smoke-spotting cameras will be used to supplement existing wildfire lookouts.

Flannigan points out that early-season wildfires are most often caused by humans. The lightning season, he said, is just beginning.

“If this continues, it could be a horrific summer for fires.”

This week’s temperatures are creating a risk that’s quite literally off the charts, Boulanger said.

“These kinds of situations occur only once in 10,000 years.”

Regions from Siberia to Australia have seen extreme weather conditions and extreme wildfires over the past few years, Flannigan said.

Story continues below advertisement

Get used to it, he warned. “This is a climate change signal.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies