Canada’s western provinces are worried that its wildfire season will be well above average. Scientists with the federal government say the problem will be exacerbated by tackling the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Natural Resources Canada has released new projections showing an elevated fire risk starting in June from British Columbia to Northern Ontario and the territories.
Parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC could see an elevated threat of wildfires that stretches into September. Bruce Macnab, the head of wildland fire information systems for the Northern Forestry Centre, said while at least one province now faces a “significant challenge” from wildfires every year, 2020 could see that threat spread across borders.
“It’s suggesting we’re going to have a fairly active fire season in Canada,” he said. Macnab said the models aren’t necessarily predicting fire behaviour, but they do show how weather and climate conditions could play a role in prolonging or elevating the wildfire risk.
The news comes as a grim reminder for Alberta, as residents in Fort McMurray just marked the anniversary of a historic evacuation in the northern Alberta city four years ago.
The fire, which started May 1, 2016, ignited a massive blaze that tore across the area and saw more than 80,000 people flee their homes as flames created apocalyptic scenes along the highway out of the city.
The fire devastated the community and destroyed more than 2,600 homes and buildings.
Parts of BC are also still recovering the record-setting 2018 wildfire season, when hundreds of fires burned. The season broke the record held by the one just before it, in 2017.
Provinces will now have to figure out how to fight fires and handle evacuations without spreading coronavirus, which has killed more than 3,800 Canadians and led to governments deploying massive amounts of resources to battle the health and economic repercussions of the pandemic.