The people of Canada and the U.S were caught in an apocalyptic scenario, where the sky was covered in layers of thick smog, blue skies all around the region turning pale yellow, with skyscrapers camouflaging the smoke.
Wildfires were reported from British Columbia and Alberta in the West, and the Northwest Territories and Yukon in the Far North to Quebec and Nova Scotia in the East. Fires are also active across Ontario, the country’s most populous province.
Prime Minister Justin Treaudu said Canada is facing a dire situation with wildfires that have sent smoke across eastern parts of the continent, creating cloudy skies over many cities, including Ottawa.
In 2021, Canada experienced its hottest day ever when Lytton, British Columbia hit 49.6 degrees Celsius, 121 degrees Fahrenheit, smashing the previous record of 113 degrees, as per CBC news report.
As per the Canada Drought Monitor, all 10 provinces are experiencing abnormal dryness, moderate or severe drought. In Canada, the national average temperature for the year 2022 was 1.2 degrees Celsius (°C) above the 1961 to 1990 reference value, making it the 16th warmest year since 1948
From 1948 to 2022, there is a trend in annual average temperature departures, showing 1.9°C of warming over that period, according to the Canadian government data.
“The effects of widespread warming are evident in many parts of Canada and are projected to intensify in the future. In Canada, these effects include more extreme heat, less extreme cold, longer growing seasons, shorter snow and ice cover seasons, earlier spring peak streamflow, thinning glaciers, thawing permafrost, and rising sea level,” adds the report.
But this was not a standalone incident. Over the last couple of years, the Canadian wildfires have become a rather frequent occurrence.
Wildfires, also known as forest fires or bushfires, can occur due to a combination of factors.
Climate change has been stated as one of the reasons for the subsequent increase in the temperature. Higher temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, extreme weather events and rising sea levels are just some of the changes already affecting many aspects of our lives.
As per government data, “Canada is warming faster than the world as a whole — at more than twice the global rate — and the Canadian Arctic is warming at about three times the global rate. Due to this rapid warming, sea-ice deterioration and changes in permafrost are expected to put communities and infrastructure in the North at risk”.
According to government statistics, Canada has about 9% of the world’s forests. Each year over the last 25 years, about 7,300 forest fires have occurred. The total area burned varies widely from year to year, but averages about 2.5 million hectares annually. Only 3% of all wildland fires that start each year in Canada grow to more than 200 hectares in area.
These fires account for 97% of the total area burned across the country. Fire suppression costs over the last decade in Canada have ranged from about $800 million to $1.5 billion a year, adds report.
The aftermath of these wildfires was the deterioration of the air quality in Canada and the adjourning parts of the USA. Many places reported hazardous air quality with a range between 300-500 AQI.
Governments of both the countries issued public safety warnings, and requested people with breathing difficulties and other lung related health issues, to stay indoors and advised people to mask up, even stepping out of homes.
It’s important to pay attention to the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) or other indicators of smoke levels in your community to help identify your level of risk and actions you can take to protect your health. Limit outdoor activity and strenuous physical activities as much as possible when the air quality is affected by smoke, advisory issued by the Canadian government.
India, too, has had its fair share of wildfires over the past. Many of the wildfires have occurred in different parts of the country especially states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. According to the Forest Survey of India data, every year large areas of forests are affected by fires of varying intensity and extent. Based on the forest inventory records, 54.40% of forests in India are exposed to occasional fires, 7.49% to moderately frequent fires and 2.40% to high incidence levels while 35.71% of India’s forests have not yet been exposed to fires of any real significance.