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World on Fire: 2023 is Canada’s worst wildfire season on record — and it’s not over yet

With choking smoke filling our skies in a summer that can only be described as unprecedented, no region of Canada has gone completely untouched by 2023’s devastating wildfire season.

More than 15 million hectares have gone up in smoke across the country this year, shattering the previous record of 7.6 million hectares in 1989 as well as the 10-year average of 2.5 million hectares.

And while the Labour Day long weekend may be the unofficial end to our Canadian summer, climate experts say it won’t be the end of the smoke or the flames.

The fires that have punctuated this year’s summer have spread further, burned faster and are predicted to last longer than some climate experts could ever have imagined.

Wildfire officials are forecasting above-average severity to continue well into the fall for much of the country, which means Canada’s worst wildfire season on record might also be its longest.

2023 fire facts

So far this year, 6,118 wildfires have been reported across Canada.

At least four wildland firefighters have died on duty in Canada since July.

Nearly 200,000 Canadians have been placed under an evacuation order this season.

In June, the Donnie Creek wildfire became the largest wildfire on record in B.C., surpassing the size of P.E.I. at 5,745 sq. km.

5,821 domestic firefighters and 4,990 international firefighters have been deployed to help tame the flames, according to Michael Norton, the director general of the northern forestry centre at Natural Resources Canada.

Climate change more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions in Eastern Canada, according to a study by World Weather Attribution.

Out-of-control wildfires have affected so many people this summer — not just in Canada but around the world, with Greece, Spain, Russia and Hawaii also enduring record-smashing wildfire seasons.

Greece’s fire department confirmed 21 wildfire-related deaths this season. And the death toll in Maui continues to climb as well, with 115 people confirmed dead and hundreds more still missing.

Living in a world on fire

Fire has been humanity’s constant companion from our earliest caves to our modern gas fireplaces. It’s given us comfort and amusement, cooked our food and warmed our lives. But it’s also been a dangerous arch-nemesis.

study by the non-profit Angus Reid Institute found that more than half of Canadians say they are expecting even worse fire conditions in the future, while one-quarter say this year will be the new normal.

Climate experts say the catastrophic infernos that dominated headlines this summer cannot be categorized as anomalies or once-in-a-lifetime events.

After decades of treating fire as the enemy, we’ve disrupted the Earth’s natural cycles and created a build-up of fuel. At the same time, we’ve cozied up to nature — building homes, resorts, even entire cities like Kelowna and Yellowknife embedded in the very green space that is fuelling the flames.

Source: CBC