May 31, 2019 8:05 pm

Years of fire suppression contributing to increasing Alberta wildfires: expert

WATCH: Global News coverage of Alberta wildfires.

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As wildfires continue to burn hundreds of acres of Alberta forest, one expert is warning that the worst is yet to come and the increase in fires may be due to the province’s long history of fire suppression.

“We have done such a good job of suppressing fires for so long that we have a lot of trees in our forest. In the arboreal forest, those trees are born to burn,” said Edward Zruski with the Institute for Energy and Environment Policy at Queen’s University.

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“They can’t regrow unless there’s a fire there to open up their cones and throw out the seeds.

“You drive from Jasper to Banff and you see stands of 80- to 100-year-old trees and they’re just waiting to burn and many of them are dead as well because of the mountain pine beetle.”

Sruzki said Alberta has seen a doubling in the number of wildfires since the 1970s and officials predict another doubling — possibly more — by mid-century.

“Everything that the forecasters have been telling us, you know, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, is coming to fruition now,” Sruzki said.

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“The scary part of it is: this is actually going to get worse and in my mind, this is as bad as I’ve seen it the last two, three years.

“I think that we also have to do a bit more controlled burning to catch up with what Mother Nature would have done if we hadn’t suppressed fires for a long long time.”

Sruzki added people are responsible for igniting nearly half the wildfires we see in Canada, and the fact that more people are working, playing and living in forested landscapes adds to the risk.

READ MORE: Alberta wildfires: Evacuation alerts and orders in place across the province

He said Albertans need to “learn to live with fire” and adapt to the fact that “wildfire is going to be a part of our lives for a long time to come,” adding that they too can become part of the solution.

“Arboreal communities have got to start preparing for what Slave Lake, High Level, Fort McMurray have all gone through, [which] is a possibility of an evacuation in the summer,” he said.

“If you’re going to build a home, don’t build it with wood siding. If you’re going to landscape it, don’t have ornamental cedars along the side of the house. And most of all, don’t have a barbecue propane tank two feet from your house.”

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