Canada is facing its worst early wildfire season on record, with 211 wildfires burning and 82 classified as out of control, Canada’s public safety minister said.
Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba and Ontario, Bill Blair explained at a news conference on Thursday, These included “many from Aboriginal communities”.
A total of 1,826 fires will burn across the country in 2023, burning 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) – equivalent to more than 5 million football fields, he said.
“These conditions, so early in the season, are unprecedented,” he said. “As a result of climate change, the frequency and severity of similar extreme weather events in our country are likely to continue to increase.”
Barrington Lake, Shelburne County:
– The fire is still not under control, covering 18,173 hectares (181.7 square kilometers)
– Firefighters include over 35 firefighters from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewable Energy (DNRR) and over 40 volunteer/civilian personnel. pic.twitter.com/Ci98RoRqxp
— Natural Resources and Renewable Energy (@NS_DNRR) June 1, 2023
Blair added: “I want to acknowledge the incredible impact these disasters have had on Canadians. Many have lost their homes, their livelihoods and, in some cases, entire communities.”
As he spoke, firefighters continued to battle fires in eastern Nova Scotia, which is also facing its worst wildfires on record.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government approved the province’s request for assistance late Wednesday and that the Canadian Armed Forces have deployed to the region.
“We will continue to make sure Nova Scotians get the support they need,” he said in a tweet.
As of Thursday, the Nova Scotia Ministry of Natural Resources and Renewable Energy said 16 fires were still burning, the largest of which was near Barrington Lake in Shelburne County. The fire has burned more than 18,000 hectares (44,480 acres) and is still classified as out of control.
— Royal Nova Scotia Mounted Police (@RCMPNS) June 1, 2023
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nova Scotia said in a tweet that about 40% of residents in Shelburne County had been evacuated, with streets closed due to smoke and poor visibility.
No deaths were immediately reported since the Nova Scotia fire broke out on Sunday. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated, the provincial government said.
On Wednesday, officials gave a more hopeful outlook for fires burning in neighboring New Brunswick. Roger Collette, a wildfire management officer with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, told local media the fire was still considered out of control but had become easier to contain.
Air quality warnings were issued for the entire region, and several areas near the northeastern United States also issued warnings for poor air quality. About 300 firefighters from the United States and South Africa will soon join the effort to contain the fire in Canada, authorities said.
Firefighters also continued to battle blazes in western Canada, with wildfires peaking in British Columbia and Alberta during unseasonably warm temperatures in mid-May.
In a video posted on Facebook, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation chief Allan Adam said more than 1,000 people had been evacuated from the remote Fort Chipewyan hamlet in northern Alberta as of Wednesday.
“We’re here to stay, and we’re going to do what we can to help protect the community,” he said.
While experts have long attributed extreme weather events in part to climate change, the issue remains fraught with political controversy in Canada.
Following his election victory earlier this week, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith of the United Conservative Party (UCP) has called on supporters to “stand shoulder to shoulder” against a plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions by 40% to 10% by 2030. 45% of a range of proposed federal policies, including through caps on oil and gas emissions.
Alberta, which produces most of Canada’s oil, is also the country’s most polluted province.