Canada could exceed the largest total amount of burned area recorded in this country in a single year, as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of wildfires and puts Indigenous communities at higher risk, according to new federal numbers.
Natural Resources Canada released updated data and forecasts Monday showing that, as of June 4, there had been 2,214 wildfires across Canada this year, and about 3.3 million hectares burned. The 10-year average over the same timeframe is 1,624 fires and 254,429 hectares burned.
The department said it is unusual to have blazes across most of the country this early in the wildfire season, and that Canada could pass the annual record for burned area if the current rate of fire activity continues.
The figures and analysis were released in conjunction with a Monday news conference by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers to discuss the data. Mr. Trudeau expressed a willingness to spend more on support if the situation worsens.
“With the given projections, it is expected that we have enough resources to cover the summer,” Mr. Trudeau said. “If things get worse, we’re developing contingency plans and we will of course make sure that we are there … to ensure that all Canadians are protected right through this summer.”
Brian Simpson, a semi-retired consultant based in Castlegar, B.C., who spent four decades fighting wildfires and eventually led B.C.’s Wildfire Service, said Canada’s system for fighting these disasters is based on the idea that only one side of the country will burn at a time. That way, provinces with lower levels of risk can share their firefighters and equipment, which has worked well in years past.
This year, with so many fires burning from the Atlantic to B.C. so early in the season, the system is facing major pressure.
“Now you start to get into this quandary where there’s not enough resources for the amount of fire on the ground, and the larger jurisdictions, who are typically the ones that are going to be providing lots of resources outside, are starting to pull back because they’re starting to either get fires or they’re imminently going to have [them],” Mr. Simpson said.
Wetter weather should continue to help Alberta and Nova Scotia with the fires burning in those places, he said, but Quebec still faces major hurdles battling blazes, and B.C. is set for a very dry and dangerous June.
So far, 198 Canadian firefighters have travelled to other provinces this season to pitch in, and 957 foreign firefighters have landed in Canada, federal officials said during their Monday briefing.
Quebec Premier François Legault said more than 480 firefighters are fighting about 30 fires in his province. But more than 160 forest fires are burning there, he added, and international support is needed.
“When I talk to the premiers of other provinces, they have their hands full,” Mr. Legault told reporters in Quebec City on Monday.
Mr. Legault said an additional 200 firefighters are coming from France and the United States, and Quebec is also in talks with Costa Rica, Portugal and Chile as it searches for additional resources.
He said no lives have been lost in the province’s fires, but they have forced about 10,000 people from their homes, most of them in the northwestern Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, and the eastern Côte-Nord region.
Diane Rioux was making dinner at home in Lebel-sur-Quévillon on Friday, when the small city in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region issued a warning. Immediately, she asked her oldest daughter to grab a pen so she could dictate a list of what they would need to bring if they had to go.
When the evacuation order came shortly after, Ms. Rioux, her husband and her three children packed medication, clothes and hygiene products before joining a convoy of people who had been ordered out of the area.
“We did it as a family, and it went very quickly,” she said. “We took my 83-year-old dad, and we left.”
Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Monday there were 413 wildfires burning across Canada, and that 249 of those were deemed out of control. There were 18 active wildfires impacting First Nations, including six in Alberta, five in Saskatchewan, one in the Northwest Territories, four in Quebec and two in Nova Scotia.
About 26,000 people had been evacuated from their homes across the country.
Rain over the weekend allowed Alberta to end its month-long state of emergency Sunday, and helped contain several fires in Nova Scotia.
In Alberta, there were 63 active wildfires on Monday afternoon, with 16 deemed out of control. Five evacuation orders remained in effect, displacing more than 4,300 people. The orders were primarily impacting remote Indigenous communities.
Chief Conroy Sewepagaham, of Little Red River Cree Nation, east of High Level in Northern Alberta, said in a Cree and English update posted Friday on social media that a fire around Wood Buffalo National Park continues to grow and has burned more than 80,000 hectares of land.
“We’re just going to keep hammering and keep doing what we’re doing here. The more we can get these ground fires extinguished, the sooner we all can come home to Fox Lake,” he said.
In Nova Scotia, at the height of evacuations from a Halifax-area wildfire, more than 16,000 people were forced to leave their homes northwest of the city, and the city said about 4,886 remained displaced Monday.
Halifax has said more than 150 homes were destroyed in the blaze, but there were no reports of deaths or injuries.
The Halifax-area fire is now contained, with an estimated area of 950 hectares, and the city said Monday that it is moving into a recovery phase, which includes soil and air quality testing.
Meanwhile, in southwestern Nova Scotia, the massive Barrington Lake fire continued to burn out of control on Monday, though heavy rain on the weekend helped stop its advance.
With reports from Alanna Smith in Calgary, Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel in Montreal and The Canadian Press