We’ve heard a lot about California recently, but British Columbia is also in serious trouble. There are about 600 blazes currently turning the province into a blazing landscape, including 145 additional fires that were ignited on Saturday by a lightning storm. All those fires have sent a river of smoke and ash streaming across Canada and out over the Atlantic, where it is expected to reach Ireland and the UK by Wednesday morning.
As with California, hot, dry weather has been a major player in increasing the risk of fires like these and yes, that’s right in line with climate trends. You probably know what’s driving those trends, but if not, here’s Mike Flannigan, a fire expert at the University of Alberta:
My colleagues and I attribute this to human-caused climate change. I can’t be more clear on that. Human-caused climate change.
Compared to a 10-year period, there are 1,500 fires so far this season when the average number would be 1,100, with an estimated 900,000 acres burned. The annual average is about 373,230 acres, but it still doesn’t compare to 2017: by this time last year, fires had burned almost 1.5m acres. Fire officials say that does not mean residents are in a worse situation this year:
“[In] 2017, we had about a dozen pretty major fires of concern and some of them reached massive sizes,” Kevin Skrepnek, B.C. Wildfire Service chief information officer told Global News. “We had hundreds of thousands of hectares burned by this time last year, single fires were just massive in size. We have a lot more active fires this year, as I said, almost 600 active fires across the province,” added Skrepnek. “At this time last year, we had about 150.”
More than 3,400 wildfire personnel are already fighting the flames in the province, including BC Wildfire Service crews, contractors, municipal firefighters, industry personnel and out-of-province crews from throughout Canada, and from Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand.
“We’re bringing in the additional resources we need to keep people and communities as safe as possible,” said Forests Minister Doug Donaldson in a statement. “I thank the federal government and the Canadian Armed Forces for their assistance, and also ask British Columbians to do their part by following burning bans to prevent human-caused fires.”
There are 27 evacuation orders affecting approximately 3,100 people, in addition to 43 evacuation alerts impacting about 17,900 people, the province said.
The government recommends that even healthy adults should “reduce or reschedule strenuous activities outdoors.”
Smoke is also creating a major public health issue closer to the source. The provincial government uses a 10-point scale to rank air quality with one being a breath of fresh air and 10 being extremely unhealthy. Much of metro Vancouver is currently scoring an eight, which is not good. In Quesnel, a small town in central British Columbia near some of the largest fires, the air quality health index used by the British Columbia government to rank unhealthy air is off the charts, ranking as a 10+.