This Canada’s wildfire season is record-breaking and set to continue

Canada’s wildfire season this year is impacting air quality way beyond the borders of the North American state, reaching as far as Europe.

The current wildfire season forecast indicates that summer 2023 could continue to be a difficult one in several parts of Canada.

Canadian wildfires 

Canada is richly forested, with about nine percent of the globe’s forests on its territory. According to forest fires estimates by the Canadian government, around 7.300 forest fires have occurred in the country during the last twenty-five years, with 2.5million hectares burning on average per year.

The 2023 Canada’s wildfire season 

Forest fires in Canada can start occurring as early as May and take place until October. This year though, the country has experienced higher-than-normal fire activity. In fact, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), the area burned as of July 2023 amounts to 8.782.952 hectares, while the area that burned in the previous year amounted to 1.467.970 hectares. This anomalous fire activity coincided with drought conditions and warm temperatures, which were predicted to increase wildfire risk in the country.

How did the smoke from this year Canada’s wildfire season travel so far?  

The hundreds of wildfires occurring in Canada generated plumes of smoke that traveled to the United States. There, they impacted the air quality experienced by the residents of New York, New England, and the Midwest, with air quality advisory being issued in late June in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

The hazy skies experienced in the United States were the result of the downward trajectory taken by the wildfire smoke triggered, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by the combination of a stationary front stretching from the U.S. states of Minnesota to North Carolina, an area of low pressure over Maine, and a high pressure one in the central area of the country.

The plumes of smoke generated by the Canadian wildfires didn’t reach just the United States but traveled all the way to Europe. In fact, through its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Terra satellite captured the wildfire smoke crossing the ocean and reaching European nations, albeit moving higher in the atmosphere than it did in the U.S., making less dangerous for people health.

June 23: Wildfires at Lebel-sur-Quevillon in Quebec
© Frederic Chouinard /SOPFEU / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Why are wildfires harmful to our health? 

Wildfire smoke is made out of various particles and gases, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Multiple sources, including wildfire smoke, can generate this inhalable air pollutant. That’s why plumes of smoke like those generated by the Canadian wildfires can impact the health and well-being of the people exposed to the smoky skies millions of U.S. residents have witnessed this June. Such conditions are especially concerning for individuals sensitive to poor air quality, such as older people, children, pregnant people, and those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses or heart diseases.

What is going to happen next?

While Canada is already experiencing a record-breaking wildfire season, it seems that for the following months, the trend will continue. Projections shared by Natural Resources Canada on the sixth of July show that most of the country will likely continue to see higher-than-average fire activity during this wildland fire season.

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