Wildfires in Canada have so far burned forests the size of Virginia. The province of Quebec recorded its largest fire on record this month as it advanced through an area 13 times the size of New York City. Huge fires, so vast and fierce that they could not be fought, broke out across the country.
Even as thousands of Canadians and overseas firefighters continue to battle More than 900 Canada fires Record-breaking wildfire season Experts in wildfires and forests have made it clear that traditional methods of fighting fires are no longer sufficient.
Instead of focusing on putting out fires, wildfire agencies, county governments and the logging industry must make fundamental changes to prevent fires from igniting and spreading in the first place, they say.
They include steps such as closing forests to people when conditions are ripe for fires and increasing patrols to catch smaller fires earlier, when there is still a chance to contain them.
New strategies are necessary because, across large swaths of Canada, wildfires are expected to become increasingly difficult to fight as they become more frequent and larger in the hotter and drier conditions brought about by climate change.
“We could add billions and billions and billions of dollars,” he said, “and even then we wouldn’t be able to put out all the wildfires.” Yves Bergeron, an expert in forest ecology and management at the University of Quebec. “We need a paradigm shift from viewing the role of wildfire agencies as putting out fires to protecting human society.”
Across Canada, wildfire agencies and provincial governments have been fighting wildfires the way they always have, experts say: responding to outbreaks of fire by trying to suppress or prevent them from spreading, or simply letting remote fires far from communities and critical infrastructure burn.
Some provinces followed by banning forest fires and eventually closing forests altogether.
But so many wildfires were raging across Canada at the same time — even in eastern provinces like Quebec and Nova Scotia that don’t usually experience the outbreaks common in western Canada — that wildfire agencies were overwhelmed, even with outside reinforcements.
Experts said the Quebec agency, which has the capacity to fight about 30 fires at once, has faced three to four times that number.
With two months left in the wildfire season, the result has already been nearly 28 million acres of forest burned, a record for a single wildfire season and five times as high. annual average.
more than 155,000 people They were evacuated from their homes at some point, some more than once, and three firefighters were killed. Smoke from the fires streamed into the United States and across Western Europe, darkening skies and making air quality hazardous.
“We were very interactive,” he said. Michael Flaniganan expert in fire management at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.
In provinces where human activity is suspected of causing fires, such as Alberta and Nova Scotia, officials have implemented fire bans and closed forests, but only after fires are already burning and spreading, and even though conditions before the outbreaks indicated a high risk, Mr. Flanigan said.
“Both Alberta and Nova Scotia used forest closures this year, but they used them too late, after fires were burning all over the landscape,” Mr. Flanigan said. “In the case of Alberta, you can see this upper ridge, extreme weather event — hot, dry, windy — coming a week ago.”
Forest closures are “very unpopular but very effective in stopping human-caused fires,” Mr. Flanigan said.
Experts say political leaders are closing forests reluctantly, and even then only incrementally, in part because of lost revenue and the unpopularity of denying access to public lands.
But closing forests early when conditions become too dangerous — and eliminating human activity that could start fires, from recreational camping to all-terrain vehicle use — means restrictions can be lifted fairly quickly, experts said.
Cordy Temestraa wildfire management consultant and former science coordinator with Alberta’s Forest fire management The agency, he said, said Canadian provinces should follow the example of Australia, another country that often faces large wildfires and where forests are automatically closed when certain weather conditions are present.
“We need to have an apolitical approach or an automated system,” Mr. Temestra said. Sorry, the forest is closed. You cannot drive your ATV on this road. ”
It is crucial to close forests early in the face of extremely hot, dry and windy conditions because any resulting fires usually cause the most destruction. Three percent of wildfires in Canada are responsible for 97 percent of burning forests, Mr. Flanigan said.
In areas where wildfires tend to be caused by lightning like British Columbia, Mr. Temestra said, patrols should be increased on perilous days. The strategy should be to spot fires as soon as possible to take advantage of a small window of perhaps at least 20 minutes to try and put them out before they become more dangerous and difficult to control.
“Your best investment is to hit them hard, and hit them fast, before they get past a certain size,” Mr. Temestra said.
“This year has been a loud call for change,” he added. “We need transformational change, a big rethink.”
Canada, whose vast boreal forests are one of the world’s largest terrestrial carbon reservoirs, should shift to fire mitigation and prevention policy, experts said.
Bergeron said the Quebec Forest Fire Agency has historically focused on extinguishing fires in commercially viable logging areas. It should refocus on making communities and infrastructure more fire-resistant, for example, creating protective barriers made up of trees or plants that are less flammable.
Experts said that reducing or eliminating power lines running through the forests would reduce flaring. Managed burns, common in some parts of the western United States, can be used to reduce the flammability of forests.
Encouraging the logging industry to cut mosaic patterns can slow the spread of fires. Urging industry to plant fast-growing but less commercially valuable tree species, such as the jack pine, would speed up forest renewal.
But these changes will be costly and some, like those related to logging, will require careful negotiation with a politically powerful industry. Repairs must also be made in each of the provinces responsible for fighting fires in their territory.
Wildfire agencies have been slow to move out of their traditional “comfort zone,” Mr. Temestra said, to focus solely on extinguishing fires.
“The all-fire-fighting model all the time, we’re losing,” said Mr. Flanigan. “The area burned in Canada has doubled since the 1970s,” he said, driven largely, and not only, by human-caused climate change.
This year’s wildfires — as well as a string of record temperatures in Canada’s far north — have pushed Canada to the fore in managing the country’s forests as the country and the rest of the world warm.
With climate change, wildfire season in Canada begins earlier in the spring and ends later in the fall. The size of the largest and most destructive fires has grown in recent decades and is expected to continue to grow Jan Boulangera forest ecologist with the Canadian Forest Service who has worked to model how Canadian forests evolve.
“These large fires are going to get more and more difficult to fight,” said Mr. Boulanger. “As the climate becomes more severe, fires will become more intense in the amount of energy they release. This year we’ve seen some fires release so much energy that no sea-bomber planes can fight them directly, let alone firefighters on the ground.
“These fires are going to be more intense and we’re going to have a lot of them,” Mr. Boulanger said, adding that the resulting smoke “will reach the United States, maybe not every year, but very commonly.”