Whatever your choice, it's here and it is savaging the magnificent forest of the west. To university of Alberta prof, Mike Flannagan, it's "climate change in action."
Alberta's newly minted premier, Jason Kenney, claims to get anthropogenic climate change but says the wildfires are a complex issue. Who can really say?
“We are seeing climate change in action,” says University of Alberta wildland fire Prof. Mike Flannigan.
“The Fort McMurray fire was one-and-a-half to six times more likely because of climate change. The 2017 record-breaking B.C. fire season was seven to 11 times more likely because of climate change.”
It takes time for scientists to research and connect individual events to climate change, but Flannigan says it has become a major factor in Canadian fire seasons.
“We burn about 2.5 million hectares a year on average — that’s using about a 10-year average,” he says. “It’s more than doubled since the late ’60s and early ’70s. Colleagues and I attribute this to human-caused climate change. I can’t be any more clear than that.”
Most fire experts use a 10-year average for comparisons but even using a five-year model, the number of fires in Alberta so far this year is already closing in on that number.
Alberta Wildfire data shows that, as of Friday, there were 569 wildfires in the province. The five-year average is 616.
But they have already burned nearly 6,692 square kilometres, much higher than the five-year average of 1,387 square kilometres.
He says there are three reasons: longer fire seasons; drier fuels and more lightning, which research has shown is increasing by 10 to 12 per cent with every degree of warming.
“Increasing temperatures, like those observed across Canada, will lead to drier fuels, and thus increased fire potential, as well as longer fire seasons,” says a federal report that looked into the Fort McMurray fire.A fire season extender, even if Jason won't admit it.
There’s already one sign that climate change is playing a role on the Chuckegg Creek fire (photo above) near High Level, says Flannigan.
“Getting May fires up there is really early for that part of the province,” he says, explaining the area would normally start seeing fires in July. “Same with the Fort McMurray fire — that fire started May 1."
“The 2017 fire season in British Columbia — their busiest month is August — it started July 7 and that was really, really early for extreme fire weather for them.”