Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A wildfire is seen in Karbole outside Ljusdal, Sweden, on July 15, 2018.


Here are some places that have experienced unprecedented wildfires in the last half-decade or so: Western Canada including, currently, the Okanagan. Ontario, Quebec and, almost continuously, the Western United States. Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, China and Russia.

European countries that have been hit include Portugal, France, Italy and, right now, Greece, where dozens have died and heat levels have been high enough to melt cars. Particularly worrying at the moment are wildfires in Sweden, which has been dealing with temperatures of more than 30 C above the Arctic Circle.

These are the places that Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, listed off the top of her head. She’s one of three Canadian forest fire experts I got in touch with this week, to discuss whether my sense that the whole world was on fire was paranoia or reality.

Story continues below advertisement

All of them – Dr. Daniels, Mike Flannigan of the University of Alberta and Christian Messier of the Université du Québec à Montréal – said that recent years have shown an increase in fires in this country and worldwide. They all believed climate change was a contributing factor, and they all had suggestions for solutions, if governments and the rest of us can find the will.

Wildfires aren’t a problem in and of themselves. “Wildfires are normal, it’s the way the ecosystem functions,” Dr. Daniels said: the waxy cones of some pine trees require heat to release seeds. What is scary is how big and fast they have become, in part because the hot, dry, windy periods that nurture them are growing longer.

These new developments are almost certainly because of climate change: Dr. Daniels pointed to “unusual” activity that’s never been “documented" before recorded temperatures began to rise, while Mr. Messier wrote in an e-mail that “all simulation models predict that fire will increase due to climate change.”

Mr. Flannigan, who has been researching the subject for 30 years, is more blunt. “I and others attribute this to, and I can’t be any more clear than this, to human-caused climate change,” he said. Some reasons are easy to understand: As temperatures increase, dry seasons that produce ignitable materials become longer, and the chance of lightning increases too.

A more complicated climate-related factor at play is the jet stream, defined in a New Scientist article Mr. Flannigan recommends as “a fast-flowing river of air snaking continually round the northern hemisphere."

The jet stream “gets its energy from the temperature difference between Arctic areas and equatorial areas,” Mr. Flannigan says. When that difference shrinks, a weak jet stream makes weather stagnant, leading to floods in rainy areas and droughts in hot ones. This year has seen temperature records broken everywhere from Siberia to Algeria.

The result, according to Mr. Flannigan, is that “our world will have more fire now.”

Story continues below advertisement

The fire community, as they call themselves, caution against rushing to put them out: Dr. Daniels said wildfire intensity has increased in Canada as a result of the build-up of dry brush over the past 150 years, as the colonial instinct to suppress fire overtook Indigenous expertise in living with it.

In the past, low fires circulated through forests, eating brush while sparing older trees with stronger bark, and creating a patchwork of burned areas which worked as buffers in following years. Now, abundant kindling leads to more treetop fires with massive flames that destroy both old and young foliage, which are often too intense for firefighting efforts at all.

“We sometimes mistakenly think … the BC Wildfire Service is going to come and they will save the day,” she said. “But there are some fires where we’re just not able to stop them. We need to be better prepared. We need to be adapting.”

In wooded areas, that means cleaning debris off roofs, to protect houses from flying embers. Dr. Daniels wants government fire-planning efforts equal to the billions British Columbia has spent on earthquake resilience.

Mr. Messier said it’s important to plant fire-resistant species, because if trees don’t reach reproductive age, there’s a threat of forest collapse. He and Mr. Flannigan also suggest thinning trees in dense areas so blazes aren’t as intense.

I asked if cutting down trees is counterintuitive if fighting climate change is the ultimate goal. “Planting trees is a band-aid,” Mr. Flannigan said simply. “We have to reduce fossil fuel burning.”

Story continues below advertisement

Either that, or watch the world turn to ash.

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 Editorial code of conduct
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 If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

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 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 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