The summer of 2023 promises to be conducive to fires in Quebec forests

The summer of 2023 promises to be conducive to fires in Quebec forests
The summer of 2023 promises to be conducive to fires in Quebec forests

The combination of high temperatures and drought conditions risks leading us again this year towards a new “active and intense” forest fire season from which Quebec will not escape, warns the Ouranos scientific consortium in an analysis published Wednesday.

“If the 2023 season turned out to be exceptional, the projections for this year predict favorable conditions for vegetation fires, raising the prospect of a new season at risk,” underlines Ouranos, based on data from Ressources natural resources Canada.

Current “trends” indicate that the risk of forest fires is indeed present in the south and west of Quebec, specifies Yan Boulanger, researcher at the Canadian Forest Service at Natural Resources Canada, in an interview.

“The main element that risks influencing forest fires this year is temperature. All models predict that Quebec should be above, or even very above, normal. “If it is warmer, there is a greater likelihood that conditions will be favorable for fires to develop,” especially if precipitation is low, he explains.

These weather conditions, exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon, “could create a favorable context for a new active and intense forest fire season, starting in spring,” Ouranos underlines in his analysis.

The fire season started very early this year. In March and April, the Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire (SOPFEU) recorded more than 60 fires in Quebec, a higher figure than last year over the same period. At this time of year, however, most forest fires are of human origin. They generally occur near populated areas and cover smaller areas.

According to Yan Boulanger, however, it will be necessary to monitor stormy activities over the coming weeks, since a combination of drought and lightning can favor the birth of fires of natural origin covering larger areas. “In 2023, high temperatures, combined with very dry conditions and a line of lightning, triggered 182 fires in Quebec on the day of June 1 alone,” recalls Ouranos.

Several regions of Canada are expected to face elevated wildfire risks this year. Already, in Western Canada, fires have forced the evacuation of citizens in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

Warming and fires

And the worst is to come, due to global warming, warns Yan Boulanger, citing the conclusions of an analysis published last year by the scientific network World Climate Attribution (WWA).

The continued increase in temperatures has already doubled the risk of creating weather conditions conducive to the emergence of extreme forest fires that occurred in Quebec between May and July, conclude the experts in their study published in English and entitled Climate change more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions in Eastern Canada.

What’s more, not only are these hot, dry conditions more “intense,” they are seven times more likely to remain elevated throughout the fire season, the paper adds. This comes from an analysis of the forest-weather index, a measure that combines temperature, wind speed, humidity and precipitation to estimate the risk of forest fires.

In 2023, more than 6,600 fires will ravage the country’s vast boreal forests, leaving deep scars on more than 18 million hectares of forested land. Quebec was particularly affected by this record season, with 4.3 million hectares of forests burned and 713 fires. A figure well above 480 fires, the annual average for the last ten years.

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