‘Significant risk’: How will wildfires spread over the next two months?

2024 wildfire season forecast: How and where will fires spread in Canada this summer?

A cooler start to spring in much of Canada has meant that active fires and area burned in wildfires is within “average parameters,”  but government officials are warning that “the risk of damaging wildfires remains significant.”

This year, a total of 730 fires have been recorded, with 1.47 million hectares burned. There are currently 87 active fires across Canada, with six out of control, 15 being held and 66 that have been brought under control.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government is urging Canadians to be prepared and is monitoring certain key areas carefully. “Key areas of concern include B.C. Interior, northeastern B.C., which have high combustible material, (and) northern Alberta, with several small and out-of-control fires. Southern Northwest Territories are entering a drier period post thaw,” he said.

Click to play video: '730 wildfires reported across Canada so far this year'
730 wildfires reported across Canada so far this year

Julienne Morissette, director of wildland fire research at Natural Resources Canada, said, “Currently, there are no fires of priority on the landscape nationally. Although the current overall conditions are at normal levels for this time of year, the risk of damaging wildfires remains significant, driven by anticipated warm temperatures and drought.”

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Officials said the situation could worsen quickly given that much of Canada is still facing drought conditions, that have persisted for the last 12 months.

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“The situation does look quite different (this year). It’s a bit cooler. The snow melt has been later, and we’ve had quite a bit more precipitation recently in Alberta. All that to say that while it looks more positive, we are still under the effects of significant drought. And as temperatures warm, things can dry very quickly. They look good in this moment. But that is why we urge Canadians to follow the restrictions the local authorities put in place because they are monitoring those conditions locally,” Morissette said.

The wildfire forecast for May said that both Saskatchewan and Alberta are at high or extreme fire severity in May. Eastern B.C., central/northern Prairies, southern Northwest Territories, eastern Ontario and western Quebec all have a forecast for above-normal fire activity in May.

In June, the area of heightened monitoring expands to Northwest Territories, Yukon and B.C. While June will see a much broader area of high or extreme severity, western Canada will still be a hotspot.

Click to play video: 'Guilbeault slams Poilievre, Conservatives over lack of climate change plan'
Guilbeault slams Poilievre, Conservatives over lack of climate change plan

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is forecasting a “high probability of above-normal temperatures through May to July.” Drought conditions are expected in high-risk regions in May, including in the northern prairies and interior B.C.

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Officials said rainfall in June is going to prove critical for firefighting efforts. A dry June could mean an active summer for wildfires.

Natural Resources Minster Jonathan Wilkinson said climate change was behind wildfires getting worse.

“Wildfires have always occurred across this country. What is new is their frequency and their intensity. And the science is clear. The root cause of this fact is climate change,” he said.

Last year, Canadian wildfires burned 18.5 million hectares of land, leaving behind the worst wildfire season ever recorded, and surpassing the previous record of 7.6 million hectares scorched in 1989.

Those fires drove nearly a quarter increase in the loss of the world’s tree cover, and put millions of people across Canada and the United States under air quality warnings throughout the summer as the fires raged.

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