"I've never seen anything like it": scenes from four parts of Canada battling wildfires (2023)

EDMONTON - Canada is a huge country with a huge variety of environments: frozen tundra, dense forests, sandy beaches. But right now, a worrying number of places face the same threat:Forest fires.

This week, firefighters battled wildfires in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories. In total, thousands of people were driven from their homes. The smoke from the wildfires in western Canada is so thick thatair quality warningsthey made it as far north as Ontario.

Climate change is making forest fires more frequent and destructive. This season has started off brutally, with 487 fires burning in Alberta alone; Of these, 92 are still active on Wednesday. In parts of western Canada in particular, wildfires have become an annual norm.

Here are some scenes from various communities in Canada affected by the fires.

BC: "Panic Situation"

Community elders whispered that something "strange and abnormal" was happening with this year's weather.

This season has been drier than usual, rivers are "really, very low" and winter seems to be turning into a hot summer, said Judy Desjarlais, president of the Blueberry River First Nations.

Earlier this month, Desjarlais received a call from her grandmother, an elderly woman in the community, asking her to meet her.

"He said I don't know what it is, but it looks like he's waiting for something to happen. I don't know what it is, but take care of your children," recalls Desjarlais.

"And then we had to evacuate in a week."

The community of Desjarlais is at the epicenter of a 21,000-acre fire that prompted multiple evacuation orders and warnings in the Peace River region of Northeast BC.

Blueberry River First Nations have been on high alert since Friday, when there were reports of ash falling in the community. On Sunday, when the wind shifted towards the community and the smoke thickened, everyone was ordered to leave the area.

“It was kind of a panic because we are in a remote area. We hear that roads are closing everywhere,” Desjarlais said.

Residents are now split between nearby Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, who issued his own evacuation alert Wednesday morning after weather conditions improved overnight.

There is hope that the region will experience some relief in the coming days.

"Today's light wind will present some challenges, but we are confident that we will make good progress today in fighting this fire," Desjarlais said.

However, the situation remains uncertain, with thick smoke limiting visibility and the possibility of further road closures. It is not yet clear when Blueberry River residents will be able to return.

"I built a viaduct yesterday and I was very sorry to see how much damage this fire did... it was sad," said Desjarlais.

Desjarlais said she is extremely grateful for the support they have received from the federal and provincial governments, the Peace River Regional District, and its tribal board and council members.

Alberta: "Everyone works together"

Garrett Howse has been a firefighter for over 20 years, but it was still sobering to see the fire that swept through his community, destroying more than 30 buildings.

"I've never seen anything like it, ever... and that was in Fort Mac," said Howse, 39, referring to the fire that destroyed Fort McMurray in 2016, forcing nearly 90,000 residents to evacuate.

Howse of the East Prairie Métis Settlement in northern Alberta helped put out the fires after about 300 residents were evacuated on May 5.

The fire near the East Prairie Métis settlement has destroyed at least 14 homes and covers more than 69,000 acres. Howse said it was uncontrollable due to the heat, dryness and wind.

“It's hard to explain. One minute you think everything is fine and the next it's blowing up again, it's hot," he said. "They're all working together to save houses, buildings, everything they can."

He said at the time that he was confident they would not lose any more buildings to the fire, but that could change in an instant.

"You did everything you could... and at the end of the day and in the morning, it looks like you didn't do anything at all," Howse said. "But keep trying."

Nearly 400 miles north in John D'Or Prairie, part of the Little Red River Cree Nation, the community is home to residents evacuated from nearby Fox Lake, where firefighters are trying to contain a fire that has gotten out of control and has reached over 32,000. . hectares.

Darryel Sowan, who works for the team, said First Nation is building a camp for evacuees. They currently live on the gym floor, which has been a culture shock for some.

"Some of these people have never been outside the community," Sowan said. "And now suddenly they're sitting on gym mats on the school floor."

In the southeast, in a remote county, Saskatchewan was engulfed in smoke Wednesday after the northern community of Buffalo Narrows was evacuated on Monday. The county currently has 24 active fires.

Nova Scotia: "Try to ignore the helicopters flying overhead"

On Monday night, Fallon and Rebecca Wilson brought pork meatballs to potluck in Little Harbor, New York, about two hours west of Halifax. A neighbor made stuffed mushrooms with parmesan and crab. Another friend brought fish soup and someone else made baked beans.

"We were just trying to take our minds off what was going on around us as best we could, sitting, eating, and talking," says Fallon Wilson.

It worked, at least for a while: they were able to distract attention from the fire burning in front of them. According to county officials, the fire in Shelburne County spread to at least 56 acres on Wednesday afternoon and was 90 percent contained.

The pork in the meatballs came from the couple's own farm,meadows at midnight. Fallon and Rebecca moved from Ontario to the south coast of Nova Scotia three and a half years ago and look after the farm using a range of sustainable land management practices known as permaculture. They plan to shut down the entire farm eventually.

At the height of the fire, the couple saw flames rising above the trees surrounding their property. On Tuesday, they smelled smoke for the first time: an ominous sign of changing winds. The farm is just a quarter of a mile from the leading edge of the fire, Fallon said; they hoped that the swampy area between them and the fire would offer some protection.

Friends who were forced to leave their homes were offered a farm room, usually used for farm stays and Airbnb guests. The community took care of each other, especially the volunteer fire department: 17 volunteers along with 30 county employees fought the fire, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The community is very close, said Fallon Wilson.


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"We are scattered," he added. "Fire keeps us busy so we have a lot to do here to be busy and try to ignore the helicopters flying overhead."

Northwest Territories: "It's just amazing"

In May last year, the flood forced m.inFirst K'atl'odeeche nationevacuate their homes at the mouth of the Hay River in the Northwest Territories. The community was still rebuilding when a fire broke out this week, almost exactly one year later.

"We've lost a lot of homes to the floods," said Chief April Martel. "Now with fire it's madness."

The K'atl'odeeche First Nation was ordered to evacuate to the nearby town of Hay River on Sunday afternoon; soon after, the city was ordered to evacuate, and residents of both communities were told to head to Yellowknife, more than five hours away.

In addition to the cots the city has installed at its Multiplex facility, Yellowknife residents have set up shelter in their own homes and formed Facebook groups for coordination. The gym offered use of showers; campers canceled their spots at fully booked campsites so evacuees could drive their RVs instead.

An update from the city of Hay River on Wednesday morning said the fire was still spinning out of control. On Monday, Martel said firefighters faced a "fire tornado" that was too dangerous to fight, forcing the crew to stop.

The Yellowknife evacuation center had 896 registered evacuees and 298 remained at the multiplex as of Wednesday morning.

Martel said frontline and RCMP teams attacked the building, a cultural institution, shortly before it caught fire. They obtained boxes of video and audio tapes, as well as art and artifacts, and loaded them onto a waiting truck.

These tapes contain "all our elders, all NWT elders, actual video footage and recordings of their voices," said Martel, documentation that is "essential" to the community.

"We have all that history," he said. “We have it all. It is safe."

Korekta — 18 maja 2023 r.: Kleine Haven, NS is about two hours west of Halifax. The earlier version of this column misrepresented the distance.

Omar Moslehis a reporter for The Star from Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter:@Omar Mosleh

Kate Allenais a Toronto-based climate change reporter for Star. Follow her on Twitter:@katecallen

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Edmonton,British Columbia,Nova Scotia,Climate change,north-western areas,Calgary



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Which country suffered the most from wildfires? ›

... list of the 20 countries most affected by wildfire disasters in terms of economic damage since the beginning of the last century is given in Table 3. The US is the country with the highest economic losses, followed by Indonesia and Canada. ...

What was the most disastrous forest fire in American history? ›

On October 8, 1871, the most devastating forest fire in American history swept through northeast Wisconsin, claiming 1200+ lives.

Where are the most affected areas by wildfires? ›

Top 10 States For Wildfires Ranked By Number Of Fires And By Number Of Acres Burned, 2021
RankStateNumber of acres burned
3North Carolina747,678
6 more rows

What factors influence the behavior of fires? ›

Fire behaviour refers to the way a fire burns, such as how quickly it spreads, how much heat it gives off and how much vegetation it consumes. Three factors typically influence fire behaviour: weather, fuels and topography.

Which state has most wildfires in the world? ›

California is the most wildfire-prone state in the United States.

What are the top 5 states for wildfires? ›

In the last three years, Alaska, California, Oregon, Texas, and Utah have had the most acres burned by wildfires. Lightning is the leading cause of wildfires in California, Texas, and Utah. Statistically, these sources cause wildfires in these states more than any other state: Colorado—Arson.

What was the biggest forest fire ever in the world? ›

The Chinchaga Fire started in logging slash in British Columbia, Canada, on 1 June 1950 that grew out of control and ended five months later on 31 October in Alberta; in that time, it burned approximately 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of boreal forest.

What is the deadliest forest fire in the world? ›

Deadliest wildfires worldwide 1990-2021

The Cloquet fire in Minnesota, United States is the deadliest wildfire event in recent human history. The wildfire, which occurred in October 1918, was ignited by railroad sparks and resulted in an estimated 1,000 people losing their lives.

What is the 2nd largest fire loss in US history? ›

Largest fire losses in the United States
Loss in Year Fire OccurredAdjusted Loss in 2018 Dollars
1. The World Trade Center New York City, New York September 11, 2001$33.4 billion$47.4 billion
2. Northern California Wildfire Urban Interface Fire October 8, 2017$10 billion$10.2 billion
23 more rows

Which region of the U.S. is at greatest risk from wildfires? ›

California has the most at-risk properties because of its large size and Mediterranean climate.

Which states are high in probability for wildfires? ›

What are the most dangerous states for wildfires?
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  • Colorado. Number of housing units: 2,212,900. Number of properties at risk: 373,900. ...
  • Arizona.
Dec 30, 2022

Where does California have the most wildfires? ›

Counties with most properties with wildfire risk
RankCountyPercent at risk
1Riverside77% 77% 77%
2Los Angeles25% 25% 25%
3San Bernardino57% 57% 57%
4San Diego37% 37% 37%
6 more rows
May 17, 2022

What are 4 factors that influence burn severity in wildfires? ›

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Forest fires move faster uphill than downhill! The steeper the slope, the faster the fire travels. If you live on a hill, you might want to leave your house if a wildfire is near.

What causes 90% of all fires? ›

Humans and Wildfire

Nearly 85 percent* of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans. Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson.

Which U.S. state is experiencing the largest fire in the state's history? ›

1. The 2021 Dixie Fire, California.

How can we stop wildfires? ›

10 Tips to Prevent Wildfires
  1. Check weather and drought conditions. ...
  2. Build your campfire in an open location and far from flammables. ...
  3. Douse your campfire until it's cold. ...
  4. Keep vehicles off dry grass. ...
  5. Regularly maintain your equipment and vehicle. ...
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May 15, 2023

Are wildfires in the U.S. getting worse? ›

Unfortunately, yes. Changes in our climate, along with other factors, have led to wildfires increasing in intensity, severity, size and duration.

What city has the most fires? ›

--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The Hartford released its 2020 Home Fire Index, ranking the top 150 U.S. cities with the highest home fire risk. The top five cities are: Detroit, Mich.; Macon, Ga.; Augusta, Ga.; Memphis, Tenn. and Birmingham, Ala.

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Which wildfire killed the most firefighters? ›

Date# of fatalitiesLocation
9/11/2001340 *New York City, NY
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10/3/193329Los Angeles, CA
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40 more rows

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The country's largest wildfire has burned 401,601 acres in Fremont-Winema National Forest, which is about 15 miles northwest of Beatty, Oregon. More than 2,000 personnel have worked since July 6 to contain the wildfire, which is when officials say it was first ignited by lightning and natural causes.

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What is the oldest burning fire in the world? ›

A coal seam-fueled eternal flame in Australia known as "Burning Mountain" is claimed to be the world's longest burning fire, at 6,000 years old. A coal mine fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania, has been burning beneath the borough since 1962.

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Fire ecologists have dubbed Africa a "continent of fire" because of its widespread annual patterns of burning.

What was the biggest city fire in the US? ›

The Great Chicago Fire was a conflagration that burned in the American city of Chicago during October 8–10, 1871. The fire killed approximately 300 people, destroyed roughly 3.3 square miles (9 km2) of the city including over 17,000 structures, and left more than 100,000 residents homeless.

What famous landmark was destroyed by the Great fire? ›

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Great Chicago Fire, also called Chicago fire of 1871, conflagration that began on October 8, 1871, and burned until early October 10, devastating an expansive swath of the city of Chicago. Chicago's growth in the mid-19th century was unprecedented.

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Where do the vast majority of deaths from fire in the United States occur? ›

Practice Fire Safety

Every two hours, someone in the United States dies in a fire. The vast majority of these deaths occur in homes, usually at night after people have gone to bed.

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Dry grasses, shrubs, and pine needles are highly flammable. Combine this with the already dry weather, and you have all the fuel needed to start a fire. California's climate and dry, flammable plants contribute greatly to the state's high incidence of wildfires.

How much land is burned by wildfires in the U.S. each year? ›

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What states are currently having wildfires? ›

Current Wildfires Burning in the U.S.
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  • Kansas. 3 fires. 808 acres.
  • New Mexico. 2 fires. 334 acres.
  • Arizona. 7 fires. 167 acres.
  • Washington. 17 fires. 22 acres.
  • Georgia. 1 fires. 11 acres.
  • Montana. 4 fires. 6 acres.
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Where to live in California to avoid wildfires? ›

Fresno. Central Valley's biggest city, Fresno, is one of the most affordable and safe places to live in California. The city is safe both climate-wise and crime-wise.

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3.Mendocino Complex459,123
4.SCU Lightning Complex396,624
16 more rows

What country has the most wildfires? ›

1. California, Washington, and Oregon – United States.

What are the 3 conditions when you should not fight a fire? ›

Never fight a fire:
  • If the fire is spreading beyond the spot where it started.
  • If you can't fight the fire with your back to an escape exit.
  • If the fire can block your only escape.
  • If you don't have adequate fire-fighting equipment.

What are the 3 A's of fire safety? ›

6) To remember the rules of fighting fires, just remember the three A's: Activate, Assist and Attempt.

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What are the top 3 causes of wildfires? ›

Naturally occurring wildfires are most frequently caused by lightning. There are also volcanic, meteor, and coal-seam fires, depending on the circumstances. Human caused wildfires can be accidental, intentional (arson), or from an act of negligence.

What are 5 ways wildfires affect humans? ›

The effects of smoke from wildfires can range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to smoke exposure.

Which state has the most wildfires? ›

California is the most wildfire-prone state in the United States. In 2021, over 9,000 individual wildfires burned in the Southwestern state ravishing nearly 2.23 million acres. California accounted for roughly 31 percent of all acres burned due to wildland fires in the U.S.

What was the worst wildfire in history? ›

Canada and the United States
18451,500,000 acres (610,000 ha)The Great Fire
18651,000,000 acres (400,000 ha)The Silverton Fire
1853450,000 acres (180,000 ha)The Yaquina Fire
1868300,000 acres (120,000 ha)The Coos Fire
52 more rows

Can you outrun a forest fire? ›

Fire can move like a freight train – many times faster than you can run. Get away as quickly as you can. Especially if you actually see flames. If a fire starts growing quickly, you won't be able to outrun it.

Who causes the most wildfires? ›

There are two broad categories of causes: Lightning (and a rare chance of other natural causes) causes approximately 60% of wildfires.

What countries are battling wildfires? ›

Wildfires have been raging in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Turkey, the United Kingdom and France. Greece: A wildfire in mountains near Athens, forced hundreds of people to flee; however, authorities said it was later brought under control.

What was the biggest wildfire in history? ›

The biggest wildfire in recorded US history is the 1825 Miramichi Fire. It blazed through an estimated 3,000,000 million acres and claimed at least 160 lives.

Are 90% of all wildfires caused by humans? ›

The majority of wildfires are started by humans, but there are two ways that wildfires can ignite independently. The non-human causes for wildfire are lightning strikes and volcanic activity.

Are wildfires in the US getting worse? ›

Unfortunately, yes. Changes in our climate, along with other factors, have led to wildfires increasing in intensity, severity, size and duration.

Why does California have so many wildfires? ›

Dry grasses, shrubs, and pine needles are highly flammable. Combine this with the already dry weather, and you have all the fuel needed to start a fire. California's climate and dry, flammable plants contribute greatly to the state's high incidence of wildfires.

Are wildfires increasing worldwide? ›

The extent of area burned by wildfires each year appears to have increased since the 1980s.


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