“Secondlame canada“, read the front page new york postSmoke from wildfires in Quebec blanketed the East Coast of the United States last week. The country’s average air quality is the worst it has been in a decade. New York was once the most polluted big city in the world. What used to be a problem in Canada — huge wildfires — quickly became a problem in the United States when unusual winds pushed the plume south of the border. Since then, winds have shifted, keeping the densely populated East Coast away from the smoke. But the fires in Canada are still raging.
Wildfires in Canada started earlier than usual this year and have been burning violently ever since. In one day alone, approximately 200,000 hectares (or 500,000 acres) were burned in Canada. According to climate change writer David Wallace-Wells, that’s more than the total area burned by California wildfires last year. As of June 14, the nonprofit Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center estimated the total area had reached 5.4 million hectares—roughly the size of Costa Rica. That makes 2023 the worst year for wildfire damage since 1995, when 7.5 million hectares were burned.
The weather is partly to blame. May was the hottest month since 1940 and the seventh driest. Such conditions can dry out vegetation and encourage fires to start and spread. While the absolute number of fires was only slightly above normal, each fire was far larger than usual. For example, Quebec’s fire area is 217 times larger.
In addition to the health hazards caused by smog, the direct impact on humans is minimal. About 26,000 people were ordered to evacuate parts of Canada. But as we went to press, no deaths were reported. President Biden said he would send 600 firefighters from the United States to the rescue. As long as the wind changes, it will become an American problem again. ■