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Canada wildfires 2024: Tips for preparing for record-breaking heat

Canada has experienced its most devastating wildfire season to date, with over 6,500 flames scorching over 19 million hectares. The warm, dry weather that culminated what is predicted to be the planet's hottest year on record is still going strong, with projections indicating that 2024 may be considerably hotter. Experts in public policy and wildfire management are advocating for increased efforts in preventing wildfires immediately. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) predicts temperatures will be above average throughout at least through October and by over 70% from April to June.

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Canada wildfires 2024: Official 2023 temperature data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be released on January 12. However, based on all available data, 2023 was the hottest year on record worldwide.

According to NOAA’s Tom Di Liberto, a climate scientist and public affairs specialist, when El Niño occurrences occur in two consecutive years, the second year usually ends up being hotter, suggesting a high likelihood of temperature increases in 2024. 2016 is a recent example; it was the warmest year on record after El Niño.

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“When you have back-to-back years of such extreme temperatures, it’s kind of allowing the possibility to be a bit more severe,” said Di Liberto. Normally, wildfire season doesn’t begin in the first week of January. However, as 2024 got underway, over a hundred “zombie fires”—leftovers from the previous summer that usually fall dormant over the winter—were still burning in British Columbia.

That truly is mind-boggling. Simply unbelievable,” stated Lori Daniels, a professor in the forest and conservation sciences department at the University of British Columbia.

With over 6,500 flames scorching over 19 million hectares, this has been the worst Canada wildfires to date. The warm, dry weather that culminated what is predicted to be the planet’s hottest year on record is still going strong.

As the worldwide El Niño weather pattern persists throughout spring, projections indicate that 2024 may be considerably hotter, leading experts in public policy and wildfire management to advocate for increased efforts in preventing wildfires immediately.

Professor John Robinson of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto stated, “The whole concept of business as usual is out the window,” adding that governments, non-governmental organizations, and social support organizations need to become more adaptable.

“Unfortunately, response to disaster isn’t a time where you get a lot of creative policy,” he stated. “We need proactive or pre-emptive response.”

Why there is already a concern about Canada wildfires 2024

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), temperatures will be above average throughout at least through October and by over 70% from April to June.

“There’s really no indication of below normal or, until we get maybe to the late fall, even near normal,” stated research scientist Bill Merryfield of the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis of the ECCC.

Additionally, the ECCC predicts below-average snowpack in all provinces through the spring, which will result in drier summertime weather. According to Merryfield, the amount of snowfall in December was less than 25% of the typical amount in most of southern Canada.

People in disaster-prone areas are developing a “fear of summer and what it will bring,” according to Kevin Hanna, head of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Environmental Assessment Research and a veteran wildfire fighter. This is because of the region’s increasingly harsh heat and drought conditions.

Will something happen to my farm or ranch this summer? Is my community need to evacuate this summer? People have it expressed in their voices and on their faces,” stated Hanna. “I know ranchers who have lost property— terrible flood damage, terrible wildfire damage.”

EXPLAINER-How climate change drives heatwaves and wildfires

Safeguarding the infrastructure

According to Daniels, it’s time for governments to spend more money on initiatives that assist citizens in making their homes more fire resistant and to make sure that any new construction in regions that are prone to fire adheres to FireSmart guidelines, such as those established by Natural Resources Canada.

According to her, Canadians living in high-risk locations for fires can apply these concepts on their own by clearing out their yards, ensuring that there is no combustible material in their gutters or beneath their decks, and rearranging their gardens to place rocks nearer buildings and flammable plants farther away.

Communities across Canada, she said, should begin preparing for emergencies well in advance of spring and acknowledge that it’s not a question of “if,” but “when” Canada wildfires may strike.

Hanna suggested that wildfire vulnerability assessments and considerations become “part of everything we do in the permitting and review process” for major infrastructure projects like pipelines, power lines, highways, and railways. Hanna said that Canada needs to have a larger conversation about prevention and managing risk by reducing the vulnerability of infrastructure.

They suggests that we could have to reconsider some common summer activities that Canadians take for granted, such restricting access to particular areas of the backcountry. This is likely to be a controversial notion coming into a dry and drought-prone year.

“We may need to declare some places off-limits to visitors in order to maintain their safety. since some people act in inappropriate ways,” Hanna remarked.

“One spark from an ATV or a hot muffler on a dirt bike or something is going to potentially cause a huge amount of trouble.”

The federal government is working on preventative measures through initiatives like the Wildfire Resilient Futures Initiative, which is investing $285 million over five years with a focus on prevention and mitigation, including strengthening the FireSmart Canada program, according to Michael Norton, director general of the Canadian Forest Service with Natural Resources Canada.

Battling flames with flames

Strangely enough, more fire may contribute to averting this summer’s most destructive fires.

Daniels noted that Canada’s forest management has primarily focused on maximizing economic benefit, which has increased the landscape’s vulnerability to fire. “[Fire] is maybe the only natural disaster, where on one hand, it’s extremely destructive, but on the other hand, is part of the solution,” Daniels said.

“Too much woody waste that we’ve left on the ground is what’s starting these new fires. She added, “And it’s destroying young, regenerating forests that are between 20 and 30 years old.”

According to Norton, fire managers are using planned burns, forest thinning, and Indigenous cultural burning practices as key components of their fire mitigation strategies more frequently.

“Manipulating the landscape with prescribed fire does not involve adding something unnatural. It’s a controlled method of lowering risks by utilizing something that is in fact a part of nature,” he explained.

“Part of the challenge that we’ve had in this country over many decades of fire management is a disproportionate emphasis on only fire suppression activities,” Norton stated.

“All the provinces and territories are increasingly trying to shift focus towards a greater emphasis on preventing human-caused wildfires in the first place, and proactively mitigating risks from fires before they occur.”

World Changing Events 2024: What Analysts Have To Say?

Cooperation and regional knowledge

According to Hanna, it’s critical to pinpoint the institutional hurdles—such as several decision-making levels dispersed across various agencies—that are holding up the implementation of controlled burns.

According to him, this also holds true for Canada’s firefighting system, which is now “very centralized” and “elitist,” managed by provincial organizations that don’t always collaborate as closely with the community as they should.

“I believe that the importance of locals, their knowledge, and their experience needs to be rediscovered. Especially in areas of rural and isolated communities in Canada, where a large number of people are familiar with the terrain, skilled with operating machinery, and able to collaborate with forest fires services to be both preventative and reactive,” the speaker stated.

Those folks also have a stake in keeping their houses and neighborhoods safe, but often it takes a last-minute rush to win them over.

How can those resources be promptly deployed without requiring a two-day procurement or form-filling process? That’s crucial,” Hanna remarked.

According to Norton, the federal government has acknowledged this and is spending over $800 million to hire and train more firemen, with an emphasis on Indigenous people in particular, as well as to maintain firefighting apparatus on reserve.

“Our training funding is targeting a fairly local level,” he stated.

Extending the knowledge from last year

Daniels stated that despite the significant property damage, there were no civilian fatalities in Canada last year, demonstrating the effectiveness of the country’s wildfire response. But as she puts it, maybe our past achievements are “one of our barriers to future adaptation.”

Eight firemen lost their lives battling Canada wildfires in 2023, highlighting the growing threat to human life.

“The firefighter deaths rocked the wildfire community across the country,” Norton stated.

Firefighters will have to deal with more severe fire behavior in 2023 in addition to the overwhelming volume and size of flames, such as the expansion of pyrocumulonimbus clouds and thunderstorms that occasionally start new fires due to the heat of extreme fires.

Despite the difficulties, Norton highlights a few significant government achievements. He stated that in 2023, Canada made new agreements to guarantee future support from other nations and brought in over 5,600 firefighters from 12 other countries to assist in fighting fires.

In 2023, the U.S. Department of Defense deployed FireGuard, a new high-tech fire detection system, to help Canada battle wildfires by using real-time data from drones and satellites to help detect new flareups in remote areas for the first time. The Canadian Forest Service also provided provinces and territories with new tactical mapping products based on wildfire intelligence.

“We had, under incredible pressure, had some quite striking successes that we are working very hard to learn from to be able to reproduce as and when necessary in the future,” Norton stated.

Farheen Ashraf
Farheen Ashraf
Farheen Ashraf is a History graduate. She writes on a variety of topics, including business, entertainment, laws, poetry, stories, travel, and more. Her passion for writing has led her to explore a variety of genres.

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