Alberta fires are nothing new but different tactics needed

May 19, 2023 | Canadian News, News

Fires have been ravaging Alberta for weeks now. As recent as this morning, close to 100 active wildfires are reportedly burning, 25 being labelled as out of control.

According to experts in fire research and management, this is nothing new. Parts of Canada have been experiencing this fiery phenomenon for years.

Brigitte Leblon, dean and professor of Remote Sensing at Lakehead University’s Faculty of Natural Resources Management in Thunder Bay, Ont., has been researching fire for 25 years.

She said climate change and rising global temperatures are a direct cause, and they have been creating a spike in deadly fires across Canada.

“In some regions of Canada, they are seeing an increase in the number of fires, and the severity,” Leblon said. “Temperature is a critical factor for fire.”

The western parts of Canada have taken the brunt of this uptick in climate disasters.

According to an environmental research study from IOPscience, an online service for journal content published by IOP Publishing, “the six most impactful wildfire events in Canadian history — based on area burned, suppression costs, and the number of people evacuated — all occurred in Western Canada during the last decade.”

Leblon described the fire triangle, oxygen, heat, and fuel, as being the perfect storm in Western Canada to cause all these fires.

These types of fires – grassland and brush fires – are difficult to manage, she said.

Much of the action happens underground in the case of grasslands, Leblon said. Fire develops beneath the soil, and is therefore unable to be extinguished, but once exposed to oxygen, it spreads incredibly fast.

She said that for this reason, these fires could continue to burn for months to come.

Climate warming is not the only cause of these brush fires, though.

David Martell, Professor Emeritus, Forestry, at the University of Toronto, said roughly 65 per cent of fires in Canada are caused by people.

“I believe most of the fires that have occurred in Alberta so far, have been caused by people as we have yet to reach the portion of the summer when lightning fires are common,” he said. “But many of the fires that have occurred in Alberta so far are still classed as ‘cause being investigated.’”

Both Martell and Leblon agree prevention of fires like these is vital to decrease the risks of danger across the country.

With fires becoming more frequent and dangerous, communities and experts alike are calling for more improved fire management resources.

The same research letter from IOPscience said Western Canada’s “new wildfire reality needs a new approach to fire management.”

The Canadian government recently announced measures like WildFireSat, a satellite system to monitor wildfires, but it is still in the very early stages of development and not scheduled to be available until 2029.