Across the Pacific Northwest, fires have become more extensive and more frequent in recent years, threatening the lives and livelihoods of residents and disrupting a tourism industry that relies on clear skies and fresh air.
Local governments and Indigenous communities in British Columbia’s fire-stricken regions have issued evacuation alerts, asking residents to pack essential items, documents and keepsakes, plan the transportation of pets and livestock and have full tanks of fuel in their cars in case ordered to flee to safety.
About 32,500 properties are under evacuation alerts in British Columbia, the province said in a bulletin Monday, while residents in more than 6,500 other properties have already been ordered to evacuate. The province currently has 273 active wildfires, the bulletin notes, amid a total of 1,445 since April that have burned more than 1.5 million acres.
The total number of wildfires in Canada this year has already exceeded the country’s 10-year average by at least 30 percent, with months left in the fire season, according to data published by Natural Resources Canada.
The wildfires scorching areas of Canada and the United States in recent years may be only the beginning of the areas’ woes, according to a new United Nations scientific report. The extreme weather seen around the world, including droughts, heat waves and flooding, will likely worsen for at least the next 30 years, the report says, because of climate change induced by human activity.
Kim Connors, executive director at the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, a coordinating authority for firefighting resources, said the country saw a similar wildfire situation in 2017. But this year, he said, the wildfires cover an enormous area, everything “west of the Great Lakes, which includes the province of Ontario, to the Pacific Ocean.”
As a result, he said, the authorities cannot free up resources to concentrate on the major fires. The problem has been magnified by cutbacks in aid and resources from the United States, because of its own battle with wildfires, and countries like New Zealand and Australia, which have been unable to dispatch crews because of pandemic travel restrictions.