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Unprecedented Wildfires in Alberta, Canada


Alice Huaut 

May 9th, 2023

After the Canadian ice storm on April 5th, in Quebec and Ontario, knocking out electricity for more than a million people, a month later more than 29 000 people were evacuated due to wildfires in Alberta.

Canada has the widest latitude range on the planet creating a wide range of climate conditions. The northern border extends to the top of the globe, while the southern border is at the same latitude as northern California. The same season is rarely present everywhere at the same time. For instance, the south can see summer-like temperatures in early April, while the Arctic may still be in the grips of a bitter winter.

Alberta is known to experience dry wind speed from the Rocky Mountains' slope in the direction of the south from November to May. The winds frequently move at hurricane-force rates of 120 km/h and cause surprising temperature fluctuations. Senior climatologist at the Environment and Climate Change Canada, David Philips, explained that wild weather occurs in April when warm air dukes out with cold air.

However, annual extreme temperature changes did not prepare Alberta for the unprecedented dry and hot weather conditions experienced during the start of May 2023. The ongoing wildfires echo the 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray Alberta, with temperatures, at the time, rising on average over 25 degrees Celsius. Nonetheless, the temperatures seen in May 2023 were higher than the ones experienced in 2016, rising over 28 degrees Celsius. Meteorologist Christy Climenhaga explains three ways climate change increases the risk of wildfires. (1) the longer summers, (2) more lightning, which, unlike human fires, is difficult to control, (3) increased dryness sucks the moisture out of vegetation: making it more prone to inflame.

On May 8th, according to the province dashboard for Alberta, there were 105 active wildfires in Alberta, either west or north of Red Deer, and 29 were labeled out of control. Of the current wildfires, 27 were started by people, ten by lightning, and 80 are being investigated.

These wildfires have come with a high social and economic cost for Alberta and Canada as people have evacuated and 3.7 % of the country’s energy production has shut down. Due to the dense smoke and difficult fire conditions, it is yet unknown how much property was damaged by the flames. Thursday, individuals were told to evacuate, some with less than an hour's notice. To compensate for evacuation costs, adults evacuated and relocated for seven days will get $1,250, through e-transfer, plus an extra $500 for each dependent child under 18.

Yesterday, Yellowstone County warned people to expect a reduction in services even though businesses, including gas stations and pharmacies, should reopen shortly. In Edson, a water ban is still in effect. A mandatory evacuation order issued last week in Big Lakes County, east of High Prairie, was modified on Sunday to an evacuation alert. Residents are free to go home but must be ready to leave in an hour. Likewise, numerous properties still have no gas or electricity.

Declaring being in a state of emergency has allowed Alberta to access more emergency funds and mobilize support–firefighters from Quebec and Ontario were sent into the region–. However, the operations of fourteen energy companies have been affected by the wildfires, including Pipestone Energy Corporation, which temporarily shut down production in the Grande Prairie region by about 20,000 barrels per day. On Sunday, Canadian natural gas exports to the United States fell to 6.7 billion cubic feet per day, the lowest since April 2021, according to Refinitiv data.

Besides Alberta, Saskatchewan has also experienced wildfires these past few days. Residents of La Loche and the Clearwater River Dene Nation were forced to leave as a 266-hectare wildfire burns through the area. In addition, 13 active wildfires were reported in the province, six out of control. At least 147 people were evacuated from La Loche and arrived in Regina, but an unknown number also left on their own; no one is known to have been injured up until now. Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency personnel brought food, bottled water, diapers, and blankets to dozens of evacuees arriving at the downtown hotel.

The light precipitation yesterday and today has allowed some relief for firefighting forces. Nevertheless, global meteorologist, Tiffany Lizee, has announced that “by the 14th of May hot and dry weather will make conditions ripe once again for wildfires”. According to Derrick Forsythe, an Alberta information officer, whether Alberta will experience more wildfires during the remainder of the summer depends on “how much rain we get in the month of May”.

The intensity and frequency of extreme weather patterns seen these past few years in western Canada, and demonstrated by the recent wildfires, unfortunately, foreshadow future abnormal weather conditions caused by global warming.

Edited by: Youssef Eljarray

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Tags: #AlbertaWildfires


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