Researcher believes climate change has made wildfires more severe

Published: October 23, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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A researcher out of the University of Alberta says climate change was not directly responsible for record wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia, but did contribute to the severity of the blazes.

British Columbia was devastated throughout a long fire season that was the worst in recorded history. Fires started in the province during April and escalated through the season, claiming 12,000 square kilometres of timber and grassland, forcing some 45,000 residents from their homes.

Blazes have continued to burn as late as September when Waterton Lakes National Park was evacuated after a fire started on the B.C. side and crossed into the park in southwestern Alberta. Mike Flannigan, a professor specializing in wildland fire at University of Alberta, says the problem stretches beyond Canada.

Around the world, fires have been “head and shoulders above the previous record.”

“There’s been deadly fires and historic fires in Chile, Portugal – twice – and California,” Flannigan added in an interview.

“It’s been quite a devastating year globally and the California fires will be the most expensive … (with) tens of billions in losses.”

Flannigan believes climate change caused by human influence is not the chief cause of the fire outbreak, but he thinks our impact on the planet has made wildfires more severe.

“With warmer temperatures, the fuels will be drier, and when a fire goes through, there’s more fuel to consume,” he said.

“It makes it more extreme. Winds are a little stronger, the temperatures are a little higher and it’s a little drier.”

“The amount of fire activity in Canada, which currently is about 2 1/2 million hectares – about half the size of Nova Scotia – has doubled since the 1970s.”

“The whole issue of climate change and the severe weather that results from it has been discussed for years … but really in the last decade we’ve just seen an explosion in the incidents and the severity of these extreme weather events,” said Bill Adams, the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s western vice-president.

“It’s really a continuation of what we’ve seen for many years where the traditional weather patterns that we’ve grown up with … we can’t rely on them any longer.”