Over 9,000 people have been evacuated in the last few days from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, where 113 fires are currently burning and have destroyed upwards of a dozen structures across 50 communities. Earlier this month, at least 5,000 people were evacuated from similar communities in danger, leading to an unprecedented number of displaced Canadians. To the west, Alberta is dealing with at least 92 fires of their own while British Columbia struggles to contain the 184 fires in their province, 33 of which are uncontrolled. According to the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System, this year has seen a nearly 40% increase in fires over the average of the past 10 years, due to the combination of extreme drought, unusually warm temperatures, strong winds, and lightning that has hit Canada over the last 3 months.
The situation in Canada has had a notable impact on air quality across North America. A steady stream of smoke from hundreds of fires has found its way into the jet stream over the past few weeks, creating extreme haze across western Canada and down into the midwestern United States with North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa being significantly affected. According to the EPA, over the 4th of July weekend North Dakota was ranked as the worst in the nation for air quality due to the smoke flowing in from Canada. All of Minnesota and parts of North Dakota have been under an “extreme air” alert in recent days, meaning that breathing outdoor air is unadvisable for anyone, especially those with sensitive lungs or health conditions. Residents of many Canadian cities have been hit even harder by the smoke, with some in Vancouver referring to the current air quality as being at a “Beijing level” of bad. The following image, provided by NASA’s MODIS, gives a sense of scale of the issue:The currently active fires in British Columbia alone have burned over half a million acres, with one death being blamed on the fires thus far. John Joe Phare was killed while felling a tree on the Sechelt Mine fire, a fire that has burned nearly 200 acres in rough terrain, making efforts to contain it difficult.
Hundreds of Canadian soldiers have been tapped to help fight the flames alongside Canadian wildfire fighters, who are already stretched thin despite the assistance of hundreds of contractors, and fire crews from Australia, Mexico, and the United States are currently spread throughout the country as well. Much of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan are still under extreme fire danger advisories as another 500 Canadian troops are preparing to join the battle, with British Columbia alone requesting another 260 firefighters from all over the world. Over 6.5 million acres of forest has burned to date in Canada, compared to just 1,400 acres in the country’s entire fire season last year, and weather conditions are not showing signs of changing until next week at the earliest.
As of today, over 400 fires are still active across Canada and 167 of those remain uncontrolled. 54 new blazes have sprung up in the last 24 hours, and the latest Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre report states that the current major fires “have the potential to exhaust agency fire resources nationally.”