July 9, 2021
Extreme temperatures and catastrophic wildfires have been making headlines recently, with Natural Resources Canada’s National Wildland Fire Situation Report listing 144 current active fires as of June 30, 2021, seven of which are classified as out of control. Forest fire season is from April to October and forest fires are most common in June, July, and August. There have been 2,611 wildfires to date in 2021 with 386,050 hectares burned. Surprisingly, the current numbers are close to the national average for this time of year and the area burned is well below average.
The devastating wildfire in Lytton, BC on June 30 burned the small town to the ground in minutes, leaving little or no time for the town’s 250 residents to evacuate and resulted in at least two deaths. The cause of the fire is being investigated and residents saw a train braking, followed by smoke. Former mayor Chris O’Connor told Global News that he believes that the fire was started by one of the many trains that go through the area and CN Rail is assisting with the investigation.
Lytton broke the Canadian heat record for three straight days leading up to the fire and reached temperatures over 46.6 degrees Celsius on June 27, 47.5 on June 28, and 49.5 on June 29. The previous heat record of 45 degrees was recorded in 1937 in Yellow Grass and Midale, Saskatchewan and the BC record was 44.4 degrees in Lytton in 1941.
Lytton is just one of many tragic examples of the devastation that can be caused by wildfires and demonstrates how easily a forest fire can start in the right conditions. According to Climate.gov, extreme heat is one of the extreme weather events that ranks high on the list of events that are influenced by climate change. Also high on the list are extreme cold, droughts, and extreme rainfall. The influence of climate change on wildfires in general and for specific events is not understood as well as for other extreme weather events but there is no denying the influence of drought and extreme temperatures on wildfires.
Wildfires are necessary for the diversity and health of the ecosystem and not all fires can or should be suppressed but about two-thirds of forest fires are caused by people. Living in an ecosystem prone to forest fires brings with it responsibility for protecting your community and environment.
If you live in a fire-prone area, you need to be prepared to evacuate if necessary. Follow these instructions from the Canadian Red Cross.