Spring break is over now, so I’m back with a new round of research! In my last round of research, I looked into the effects of wildfires on human lives; that is, the people whose property is destroyed by wildfires as well as the all the money that is spent fighting and suppressing wildfires. This week, I am digging deeper into the history of Canada’s wildfires, researching which years were the worst and which years were the best in terms of in terms of numbers and sizes of the wildfires in the country for example, and if I can, I will try to find out why certain years were worse or better than others, and how these wildfires affected our country.
To start off, here is a diagram that shows us the number of wildfires Canada has had throughout many years and the amount of land that was burned each year:
This data was retrieved from the Canadian National Fire Database (CNFDB) from the years 1980 to 2017. It shows how the both the amount of wildfires and land burned in Canada have a lot of variability throughout the years, and you can see that the number of wildfires does not necessarily correlate exactly with the amount of area burned each year. From data in the National Forestry Database (NFD), there are more than 8000 fires every year and an average of more than 2.1 million hectares are burned from these fires. (1)
To get a better idea of all the land burned in Canada over the years, here is a diagram that shows that information from 1980 to 2017:
Moving on to 2018 in British Columbia, in terms of the amount of area burned, that wildfire season is currently British Columbia’s most devastating. Nearly 13,000 square kilometres, or 1.250,383 hectares from April 1 2018, were burned throughout all of BC (2, 3, 4, 5). In total, it costed approximately 350.1 million dollars fighting fires that year, therefore being the second-most expensive year in the history of British Columbia (3).
In this diagram, you can see just how extreme the risks for a wildfire were in British Columbia in 2018:
Over 3,000 Canadians were displaced from their homes from the 2018 British Columbia wildfire season, and more than 21,000 people were on alert in case it got worse and they had to evacuate too (2, 4, 5).
The next most devastating wildfire season British Columbia has known is the year before, 2017 (2, 4, 6, 7). The 2017 wildfire season saw approximately 65,000 evacuated from their homes, roughly 12,161 square kilometres burned (2, 6, 7), and over 568 million dollars spent towards fire suppression (6, 7).
Here is a chart that shows the rest of British Columbia’s worst wildfire seasons, in order of the number of square kilometres burned each year starting from 1950:
There are many reasons suggested by scientists that can explain why the last two wildfire seasons were so extremely severe in British Columbia. For example, they believe that there wasn’t enough controlled burning and aggressive firefighting efforts which have let potential fuels build up over time. However, scientists also say that the change in weather patterns caused by climate change has made things worse, creating warmer, drier weather and more lightning in our province (2).
Most of 2018’s wildfires in British Columbia were caused by lightning, the number being 1,467. Another 443 wildfires were due to human activity (2, 4).
Some of the ways that these human-caused wildfires started were because of campfires, cigarettes, flares and car crashes. So many of the 2018 wildfires in British Columbia were avoidable, and in times when there is a lot of fire activity, these human-induced fires redirect important resources away from the naturally caused wildfires that are unpreventable. (7)
That’s it for this week! Next time, I will be concluding my research, using all the information I have will have gathered over the past months, I will decide how much funding the Canadian/BC government should be used for fire prevention/control as well as how it should be used. I will base this on what has been most negatively affected by wildfires and need the most support, what strategies have been used and how successful those strategies have been to prevent and suppress wildfires.
Any suggestions, ideas or websites are welcome. Thanks for reading!