Forest fires in Canada: is climate change responsible?

For several weeks now, devastating images from Canada and the United States have shown the severity of the forest fires that hit the Pacific Rim. A rare heat wave phenomenon that has reached record temperatures, including in Lytton, British Columbia, where the temperature rose to 49.8 ° C, a temperature that even Las Vegas, NV has never recorded. This extreme heat event has already caused hundreds of deaths and burned thousands of hectares of land. This situation raises the following question: how much of this unprecedented crisis is due to global warming?

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Lightning at the origin of forest fires

Canada has 9% of the world’s forests and each year, over 9,000 fires burn more than 2.5 million hectares of land. However, forest fires have always been a natural phenomenon that plays an important role in shaping Canadian ecosystems. They allow the removal of older trees and debris from the ground, resulting in the growth of new shoots and the diversification of species. Some species, such as Jack pines, depend primarily on fire to survive. In this regard, prescribed burn is a valuable tool in maintaining the diversity of Canada’s forest ecosystems, but these fires must be controlled. Human-caused fires, such as those caused by cigarettes and abandoned campfires, are common. They often occur near cities and are quickly discovered, reported, and extinguished. Lightning remains the leading cause of forest fires. It is responsible for 45% of fires in Canada. They originate in remote areas, particularly in western and northern Canada, where access for firefighting crews is difficult.

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An unusual heat wave

Lightning season is starting now in Canada and, this year forest fires are making headlines. The extreme heat that the country is currently experiencing is a major factor. This has led to a great drought, which favors the spread of forest fires. This is the case of the Canadian village of Lytton, swept away by the flames after having a record high temperature of 49.8°C. The United States are also affected by this intense heat wave. It is the case in the states of Washington and Oregon which suffered extreme temperatures and counted hundreds of sudden deaths. There are hundreds of fires developing, and the number of victims continues to increase.

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When global warming turns the Earth into a furnace

Climate change is playing a major role in the historic heat wave currently affecting Canada and the United States. Although heat is a normal feature of the climate in these areas, this year they are experiencing disproportionately high temperatures. This is one of the most extreme heat waves on Earth in terms of variation from normal weather conditions. Unprecedented record high temperatures have been recorded, as is the case in Vancouver, with a temperature of 50°C, or in Portland, where the thermometer rose to 46°C. “Heat domes” have been identified as the cause of these temperature variations. It is a climatic phenomenon that blocks and causes the stagnation of air. Compressed, the air sinks and warms the atmosphere. As the trapped heat continues to warm up, it acts like a lid on a pot. While this phenomenon is not directly related to global warming, climate change significantly increases its intensity and occurrence. World Weather Attribution researchers have estimated that global warming has made this event at least 150 times more likely to occur.

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Is France safe from such an event?

In recent days, new heat domes have formed in Spain and more precisely in the city of Seville, which recorded a temperature of 44 ° C, and in Morocco where the temperature rose to 50 ° C. We must get used to these record-breaking weather events characterized by increasingly high temperatures and heat waves. In this global panic, one question arises: is such a phenomenon likely to occur in France? The last heat dome recorded in the country dates back to June 2019 when a record temperature of 46 °C recorded in Vérargues, Hérault. As July has just begun, the heat and drought on our land could, here again, participate in the start of forest fires. According to scientists, the probability of a new heat wave event remains low, since we estimate that such a situation would occur about once every hundred years. However, this probability is increasing rapidly year after year due to global warming. If this year, no similar heat wave is expected in France, nothing suggests that the country will be immune from it.

Global warming: the worst is yet to come

Faced with recurring droughts and rising temperatures, it is essential to fight against global warming. Fires are intensifying and affecting more areas of the world. The risks are no longer limited to the regions historically affected, but all countries are concerned. It is difficult to predict how often such heat waves could happen again, because global warming is well advanced, and these incidents are becoming more and more frequent. We can still hide, turn a deaf ear, and observe the facts with astonishment, while other countries like Canada, are already facing these dangers. How much longer will we have this privilege? Today, we can see what we could be facing while we continue to heat the planet up. The consequences will also hit us hard. Let’s stop believing that climate change is for later, it is today that our lives are at stake. Everyone can be an agent of change, but it is essential to take a stand and make a true commitment. Open your eyes, you no longer have the right to be surprised, shocked or stay passive at the sight of these events, because today there is no doubt about the necessity to act with urgency.

Ecrit par Maeva Ortega.

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