A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. Fire conditions for Western Canada are a concern as the summer approaches, but everything depends on what kind of weather the next few months bring, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. Fire conditions for Western Canada are a concern as the summer approaches, but everything depends on what kind of weather the next few months bring, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

Dry spring can create wildfire trouble for Western Canada, experts say

‘It just doesn’t depend on June,’ says one expert

Wildfire conditions are cause for concern this year as parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia report either significant drought or record low rainfall between January and April,experts say.

However, the severity of the wildfire season will depend on what kind of weather the next few months bring, they say.

Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, said May is the busiest month for wildfires in Alberta, and June and July for the rest of Canada except for B.C. where it is August.

“It just doesn’t depend on June,” he said. “It depends on the weather during June, July and August.”

The recent trend, Flannigan said, has seen a decrease in the number of fires but an increase in the area burned caused by more lightning strikes.

Lightning-caused fires happen in remote areas, tend to be larger and occur in clusters that may overwhelm fire management authorities, he said.

It takes time to report and reach them, he said, and hot, dry and windy days exacerbate the fires.

“If you don’t get to the fire when it’s small — by small I mean smaller than a soccer pitch — you have a real problem,” Flannigan said.

“The longer it takes you to get to the fire, the more likely the fire is going to escape and get large.”

Flannigan said spring is coming earlier across Western Canada and that dries out the vegetation, making it easy for a fire to start and spread.

“It means that the higher intensity, the more challenging or difficult or impossible (it is) to extinguish if it gets bigger than that football field.”

Lori Daniels, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia, said the fire season in B.C. will depend on how much rain falls in June and July.

“So it’s really kind of the canary in the coal mine — the weather between now and the end of June.”

The record-breaking fire season of 2017 in B.C.saw fairly cool conditions in May and early June but warm and dry weather towards the end of the month, she said.

“The weather channel becomes my favourite channel to watch when trying to predict what’s going to happen with our fire seasons because I watch to see where is our high pressure, which gives us sunny, hot conditions,” she said.

“It means that there are no clouds forming, we’re not going to get rain, and if you get lightning and wind, those combined with those sunny, hot conditions, we’re in trouble in terms of fire season.”

Western forests also have plenty of flammable material in the combination of living and dead trees.

Flannigan said dead wood caused by mountain pine beetles, spruce budworm or other pests can lead to crown fires, where high-intensity fires in the tree tops cause “massive walls of flames” and are extremely difficult or almost impossible to extinguish.

For now, Flannigan and Daniels say they are in fire-watch mode.

Last year was quiet, while 2019 was busy in Canada. The two previous years were record breakers in B.C., Flannigan said.

“So, you know, it’s a roller-coaster,” he said.

“I can’t tell you what it’s going be. I can tell you what’s happened by far. We’re above average. But what’s the rest of the fire season going to look like? I don’t know.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Weather

Just Posted

teaser
Dynamic drives and pitiful putting helped even the score

Another Ladies’ Night has come and gone. This season is passing by… Continue reading

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Traffic cop humour

He demands to know what sort of device had been used to measure his speed

(L-r) Cody Lee with six-year-old daughter Paisley, and Joshua Burleigh with his seven-year-old son Noah are extremely thankfull to Heffley Creek residents and First Responders for the help they received after their canoe capsized in rapids on the North Thompson River on Sunday, June 13. (Facebook photo)(L-r) Cody Lee with six-year-old daughter Paisley, and Joshua Burleigh with his seven-year-old son Noah are extremely thankfull to Heffley Creek residents and First Responders for the help they received after their canoe capsized in rapids on the North Thompson River on Sunday, June 13. (Facebook photo)
North Thompson River canoe trip almost ends in disaster

‘Only way I managed to get us to shore was the thought of not letting my boy drown’

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

Most Read