Fire in Canada

Phil Reilly from Tearfund Canada writes about the worst wildfire season in British Columbia's history

As I write this from my home, which is just outside of Vancouver, the temperature is a hot 33 degrees Celsius and the skies are filled with smoke. Another record-breaking year of wildfires in British Columbia (and across Canada) with no immediate end in sight.

My wife and I moved to Vancouver a little over 20 years ago after moving from Scotland for our postgraduate studies. It’s difficult not to fall in love with British Columbia with its old growth forests, Rocky Mountain Range and countless lakes. We are spoiled with choice for outdoor activities and as a family, we are always out and about exploring what this Province has to offer. Yet, over the past two decades, I have noticed that our summers have become longer, hotter and filled with wildfires. Beautiful BC is burning before our eyes.

During the summer of 2021 BC experienced what was referred to by Al Gore as “…a statistically impossible event” – a heat dome from June 25th until July 1st, BC's deadliest, most extreme weather event to date. The BC heat dome contributed to 619 heat related deaths in that period, and the hottest day ever recorded in Canadian history of 49.6 degrees Celsius in Lytton which the following day was razed to the ground by a fast-moving, catastrophic wildfire. Since that year, BC has suffered consecutive drought laden summers that has made BC a tinderbox, ripe for wildfires… and this year, we have been hit hard. 

This summer we recorded the earliest start to wildfire season (May) and the most recorded wildfires in BC’s history and the most wildfires recorded across Canada. Just last week West Kelowna, Kelowna (up to Vernon) and the Shuswap Region suffered from devastating wildfires started by dry lightning and fueled by windy conditions. I have never seen anything like it. At one point, the McDougall Creek wildfire jumped Okanagan Lake and it was described by local volunteer fire fighters as “… a wall of fire… apocalyptic”. Many residents have lost their homes and evacuation orders are still in effect across many parts of BC.

BC’s Premier, David Eby captures the reality so clearly: “The ferocity of the fires and the extent of the burning, not just here in British Columbia, are clearly linked to human-caused climate change. We’re in the fourth year of drought here and that’s making the fires so much worse.” 

The sad reality is that unless we make some drastic changes to our reliance upon fossil-fuels, BC’s record-breaking wildfire season will be broken again, and again. Of that, I have no doubt.

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