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Federal fire officials update forecast for this year's wildfire season

EDMONTON — This year's fire season forecast is normal across the country for the month of May, but the hazard is expected to increase for much of Western Canada this summer.
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EDMONTON — This year's fire season forecast is normal across the country for the month of May, but the hazard is expected to increase for much of Western Canada this summer.

Natural Resources Canada's Northern Forestry Centre in Edmonton, one of five research centres with the Canadian Forest Service, provided the update on Wednesday.

"For the month of May, we are showing normal or below-normal levels of expected fire severity through the entire country," said Richard Carr, a wildland fire research analyst.

"However, through the summer beginning in June and extending through August, we're seeing the western-most regions — British Columbia, Yukon, western Alberta — that have increased risk of fire severity and therefore the possibility of more fires."

The daily forecast right now shows the fire danger is extreme in Yukon and parts of the southern Prairies, but officials said that can change quickly with the weather.

"Even during average years, bad fires can happen if they happen in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Bruce Macnab, the centre's head of wildland fire information systems.

There are already several fires burning across Western Canada.

In British Columbia, an aggressive wildfire is burning west of Osoyoos near the United States border, and crews spent the weekend battling fires near some northern communities.

Alberta has 23 active fires, one of which is classified as out of control north of Peace River.

The most fires so far this year have happened in Manitoba, but 38 of those 57 fires have been put out. The province's website says the fires have burned through 7,454 hectares.

Federal officials said the forecast they provide doesn't predict the number of fires, only the weather conditions that could lead to more fires.

"We need ignitions to actually create the fires," said Carr.

They said more than half of all wildfires are caused by humans and lightning strikes account for the rest.

Ellen Whitman, a fire research assistant, said the amount of area that burns increases annually across Canada.

"Historically, we really do experience a lot of fire in this country," she said. "In recent decades, however, we've been seeing increases in those hot, dry, windy days — especially in Western Canada.

"The period of time ... generally referred to as the fire season is extending or lengthening. In some areas, it's becoming longer by weeks due to earlier springs and also later autumns."

Whitman said a changing climate will continue to worsen the fire season.

"We expect fires to become more common in Canada, in terms of increasing in numbers, increasing in area burned and also becoming more frequent."

The Canadian Forest Service works with provinces and territories on wildfire management, provides maps of daily fire weather and behaviour, notes fire locations and does monthly seasonal fire severity forecasts through an online information website.

Monthly forecasts help to determine trends expected for the upcoming fire season.

Canadians can also see daily fire danger maps online at http://cwfis.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/home.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press




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