In short, yes. Thanks to fossil-fuel-induced climate change, wildfire seasons are becoming hotter, longer, and more unpredictable. This year saw Alberta’s fire season kick off in February. [1]

How many fires in Alberta in 2024?

At the time of writing, there are 61 current year active wildfires in Alberta. You can check the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard for the latest updates.

What does this mean for the state of our climate? Nothing good. Not only are we losing trees which act as a vital carbon sink — meaning they absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release — but the burning of vast tracts of forest is also polluting the atmosphere.

New research shows that 2023’s supercharged wildfire season in Canada “pumped more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air than India did by burning fossil fuels.” [2] (Worth bearing in mind the next time someone argues against climate policy by saying, ‘But what about India and China?’)

As for the human cost, many Indigenous communities displaced from 2023’s devastating fires are still not home. [3]

Where are the wildfires in Canada?

The Canadian Wildland Fire Information System has an interactive map updated daily, usually between May and September. However, as the forest fire season stretches ever longer, this monitoring period will extend.

You can also check out wildfires by your area:

The different levels of sophistication between the mapping systems tell us a story and that is, some parts of Canada aren’t used to wildfires. Provinces such as Alberta and B.C. have highly-detailed interactive maps because they’ve been living with fire seasons for decades.

Nunavut? Not so much. Although, headlines like “Wildfire in Nunavut prompts state of emergency at Bathurst Inlet” should have us all sitting up and paying attention.

What causes wildfires in Canada?

When people hear ‘human-caused wildfires,’ the first thing many think of is cigarette butts or barbeques. But there are other things that we humans do to cause wildfires in Canada — riding an ATV, for instance.

According to the Alberta government’s website, “Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) have exhaust systems that get hotter than 200°C. At these temperatures, built-up materials (such as grass, muskeg, moss, or other debris) can heat up, smoulder and ignite. These can fall to the ground as you are riding, starting a wildfire.”

Of course, unattended campfires are another issue and that’s why many areas issue varying levels of fire bans throughout the summer.

As The Narwhal reports, “Typically, nearly half of all wildfires in Canada are caused by lightning strikes, but that can vary from region to region and from month to month.”

So, what starts wildfires in Canada? A combination of lightning strikes, human activity — this includes fallen power lines, sparks from a train track, agriculture…the list goes on — climate change and modern-day fire prevention and suppression policies which have led to a build-up of forests just waiting to burn.

That’s why “fire ecologists and some First Nations say prescribed and cultural burns will help reduce B.C.’s fuel load.”

What can we do to stop wildfires getting worse?

If Canada wants to be the climate leader it keeps claiming it is, then we need a strong federal cap on oil and gas emissions. Politicians have the power to slash carbon emissions and put us on the path to a safer future. But they’ll only act if we make it clear the public demands it.

While firefighters are bravely battling wildfires, it’s time for our MPs to step up too. People’s homes are burning down. Governments must stop the fossil fuel industry from pouring gasoline on the flames.


References

[1] Alberta declares an early start to wildfire seasonEdmonton Journal

[2] Canada’s 2023 wildfires created four times more emissions than planes did last year – reportThe Guardian

[3] As Canada braces for a raging summer, Indigenous communities remain displacedThe Guardian