By: Caroline MacLellan
July 31st, 2023
In the seven months since 2023 began, Canada has been ravaged by out-of-control wildfires. As of July 8th, 2023, over 3,593 wildfires have been recorded by Canadian wildfire authorities. Some may think this is normal for Canada, but data shows that the severity of this year’s wildfire season is unprecedented.
While there have been fewer fires this year than before, these fires are much, much larger. There were over 4,000 recorded fires in 2022, but only 1.5 million hectares of land burned. In 2023 so far, over 8.8 million hectares of land have been set ablaze.
The large area these fires occupy is one of the reasons air quality in both Canada and the midwestern United States has been so poor lately. In some places, the air quality index reached over 250, indicating that the air was extremely unhealthy to breathe in.
For example, at an index of over 200, also known as a “code purple,” all citizens regardless of age or underlying conditions are advised to stay indoors, as prolonged outdoor exertion increases the amount of pollutants you breathe in. According to the American Lung Association, a medical organization researching lung health, air pollution this severe can “[trigger] asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes—and can kill.” Even though the smoke has largely dispersed over the last two weeks, there’s no telling how the situation could change.
The fires have also contributed to the mass displacement of Canadian citizens. Forced out of their homes by the smoke and fire, Canadians have certainly suffered the worst effects of the fires. Luckily, there have been plenty of efforts to help them.
Canada’s 2023 wildfire season has been one of the worst ever recorded. While there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the intensity of the wildfire season, climate change certainly has one of the largest, lasting effects on it. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, climate change exacerbates the hot, dry conditions that cause wildfires to start, and then spread uncontrollably. The Earth’s slowly increasing global temperature will certainly cause more and more of the world to become the perfect environment for wildfires.
For example, climate change may cause an increased frequency of drought, paired with above average temperatures or a sudden heatwave. This heat turns dry leaves and wood into the perfect kindling. Any sort of spark, be it lightning or a human’s leftover campfire, would immediately set those leaves and twigs ablaze.
The wildfire disaster is another reminder that we should start focusing efforts on combating climate change, even more so than before. Scientists have stated that the increasingly harsh wildfires are becoming a “new abnormal,” and that if nothing is done about climate change, the wildfire situation will become worse and worse. If the greenhouse gasses the world emits do not decrease, countries other than just Canada might have their own wildfire issues to worry about. California and areas of Australia for example, have experienced conditions similar to Canada’s already.
To make matters worse, wildfires themselves have a negative environmental impact that lasts years after the fire is out. Some effects include polluted water, the loss of vegetation such as trees, wildlife endangerment, and poor air quality. The US and Canada have already experienced the harmful air quality, but the other effects of wildfires rarely surfaced in the discussions online the last two months.
The loss of trees in particular is certainly something to be concerned about, especially in the midst of a climate crisis. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide, and when wildfires destroy them, that carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gasses contributing to the warming of Earth’s atmosphere, this only serves to exacerbate the climate issue surrounding wildfires.
In the midst of the wildfires, many wonder what can be done to fight them, as well as prevent them before they happen. When it comes to preventing them on an individual basis, people on camping trips, or using campfires for whatever reason, should properly follow fire safety rules. Always make sure to completely douse a campfire when finished. Leaving warm embers, especially in hot or dry weather, may unexpectedly start a fire.
Take care to never leave a fire unattended either. It only takes a couple seconds for the wind to pick up, causing a fire to start spreading.
While 85% of wildfires are caused by humans, doing our part alone won’t completely solve the issue. As aforementioned, climate change is another leading cause of wildfires. Therefore, fighting against climate change and lowering the greenhouse gasses emitted each year will help the world combat wildfires in the long run. Countries can also help fight against and prevent wildfires by creating more robust wildfire fighting infrastructure, and informing the public of fire safety rules.
The ongoing wildfires in Canada have certainly sparked positive discussions on how humans can come together to protect each other. Many of Canada’s allies worldwide have pledged their help in fighting the wildfires ravaging the country.
For example, the United States sent hundreds of firefighters to Canada to help battle the fires. Other countries have done likewise. While the wildfires have certainly set a bleak tone for the year, the combined efforts of people around the world to help Canadians is certainly promising. By working together, humans can solve even the most difficult of problems.
Caroline MacLellan is a senior studying Professional and Public Writing, with a minor in Japanese. In her free time, she loves watching Korean dramas, reading manga and creative writing.