May 24, 2024

Some forest fires never go out

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Charred pine trees in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia (index image). © alimdi/Arterra/Imago

After an unusual wildfire season in Canada, numerous fires are still burning underground. This makes us fear the worst for the new season.

Zombie fires burn underground, even under the snow. The remnants of the most unusual wildfire season in recent Canadian history are still smoldering at what experts say is unprecedented. According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, the warm and dry winter, particularly in western Canada, has sparked more than 150 fires in British Columbia and Alberta.

Such fires — known as holdover or zombie fires — smolder and smolder throughout the cold months, but not to this extent. “We've seen something like this before, but never on this scale,” said Michael Flanigan, a wildfire expert and professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. “I've been tracking fires in Canada and abroad since the late 1970s. I've never seen anything like this.”

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A winter fire burns underground

These winter fires burn underground and often consume thick layers of compacted organic matter, including peat moss. Smoke billows even from beneath the snowfields. Most of the fires are considered “under control” by Canadian officials, but experts fear the fires could spread as spring arrives and winds pick up.

“Borders are thousands of kilometers long. [Die Feuerwehrleute] “We haven't released all the hot spots yet,” Flanigan said. “These fires can grow.” The size of this current fire is a testament to last year's super-sized wildfire season, which tore through swaths of Canadian forests and created huge plumes of smoke that filled the Midwest sky. And the East Coast darkened in the summer and resulted in some of the world's worst air quality in major U.S. cities.

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According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, the area burned at about 45 million hectares, more than double the previous record set in any year since 1983. The fire forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. These Canadian fires are part of a growing number of wildfires in North America and other parts of the world caused by a warming climate, particularly as a result of humans burning fossil fuels.

“Climate warming and drought are leading to these massive fires, which are encouraging this excessive fire activity,” said Jennifer Baltzer, a professor of biology at Wilfrid Laurier University. Toronto Star. Canada has vast areas of multi-tree boreal forests, accounting for about 10 percent of all forests in the world. Fires destroyed 4 percent of Canada's forests last year alone.

A spokesperson for British Columbia's Ministry of Forestry said in a statement that “the size of the winter fire is understandable given last year's widespread fire activity and drought conditions.” All 90 remaining fires in the province are under control, meaning suppression measures have now ensured that the fires have not spread further. “The PC Forest Fire Service is monitoring these fires, operations are increasing and further action may be required,” the statement said.

Winter fires burn with charcoal and release emissions

As the winter remnants of these fires now burn through carbon-rich charcoal, they continue to release emissions that warm the atmosphere. Peat fires have been shown to occur in other parts of the world, e.g. B. Indonesia emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air.

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Wildfires in British Columbia (thumbnail).
Wildfires in British Columbia (thumbnail). © Xinhua/Imago

Winter fires are fueled by drought in much of Western Canada. The country's drought monitor shows British Columbia and Alberta — where most of the zombie fires are burning — are experiencing severe drought, and as of late January, 70 percent of Canada is classified as “abnormally dry.” The El Niño weather pattern has further fueled fears of hotter and drier conditions for the coming summer.

Union Emergency Management Minister Harjit Sajjan warned Canadians this week to prepare for the worst. Sajjan told reporters in Ottawa, “Initial reports suggest that this year's forest fires will be worse than last year.

The Alberta government has already announced the start of wildfire season — ahead of its traditional start in March — and the province's Minister of Forestry and Parks is requesting funding to hire 100 additional firefighters. “It's a tie for a very active spring,” Flanigan said.

To the teacher

Joshua Bartlow National Correspondent at the Washington Post. He previously served as bureau chief in Mexico City, Kabul, Rio de Janeiro and correspondent in Baghdad.

This article was originally published in English on February 24, 2024 by “” Published – as part of a collaboration, which is now available in translation to readers of IPPEN.MEDIA portals.