Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.
The smoke from wildfires across Canada has left the New York skyline and Washington’s Capitol mere smudges in news photos. The orange pall heavy in the skies of major cities in the East is something people along the continent’s West have known over and over.
But it’s hardly a time for schadenfreude. Rather, the geographical scale of the wildfires threatening the country all at the same time is unprecedented.
With fires burning out of control in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia, Canada is leaning on help from hundreds of firefighters from abroad. France is expected to send 100 to Quebec, with the first of them already arrived. Some 200 South African firefighters made a memorable entrance in Edmonton on Thursday, breaking out in song and dance at the airport and going viral in the process.
U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered all of his country’s federal firefighting personnel to be ready to deploy to Canada, saying Thursday he had offered Ottawa any help it requests to battle the blazes, including air tanker planes. He said the U.S. had already deployed 600 firefighters, some of them smokejumpers – firefighters who parachute into the middle of forest fires – and “hot shot” crews that are specially trained to fight the hottest parts of the blazes.
In Tumbler Ridge, B.C., about 2,400 residents in the district on the foothills of the Rockies were ordered out of their homes on Thursday. Thunderstorms, due to arrive over the weekend, were proving a double-edged sword: The rain will be welcome, the lightning that comes with it, not so much.
In Tofino and Ucluelet, the tourist-dependent communities were cut off from the rest of Vancouver Island. A forest fire forced closure of the main highway from Port Alberni, with only a treacherous logging road as the alternative. Even that closed for most of Friday after a vehicle had to be pulled from a lake.
“All travellers are urged to avoid travel along the detour route before, during and after the closure because commercial trucks will be queuing for passage,” the Ministry of Transport said in a statement.
The flames, the choking smoke and the upheaval has become unwelcome summer routine in much of Western Canada, but this year’s early explosion of the fire season has also come with inescapable dread over what the rest of the summer will look like.
Temperatures remain well above normal for this time of year and the latest Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin, issued June 1 from the Ministry of Forests, shows a province in deep red denoting next to no snow water across the landbase. The bulletin included this ominous assessment:
“Several factors have generated high risk of province-wide drought in summer 2023, including lingering effects of fall 2022 drought, unusually dry and warm conditions prevalent in winter 2022-2022 and spring 2023, exceptionally rapid and early 2023 snowmelt, and high likelihood of above normal temperatures this summer.”
Tofino Mayor Dan Law says the road closure is not the only concern the town is having, as the town’s water supply has been deeply affected by an extremely dry spring on Vancouver Island.
“Tofino went to stage 2 water restrictions in May. That’s unheard of,” he said.
“We’re encouraging visitors and residents and businesses to conserve as much water as they can and get used to conserving water in preparation for a dry summer.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.