Extreme wildfire weather increasing around the Granthshala, research suggests

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A wildfire burns west of Vernon, BC on August 12.Darryl Dyke/The Canadian Press

New research shows that the risk of extreme wildfire incidents is increasing around the world, with the greatest increase in western Canada.


Rising temperatures and falling humidity are the biggest drivers of change, said research conducted by Natural Resources Canada and published Thursday in the journal Nature.

“Our predictions for the future are showing the same trend,” said lead author Piyush Jain. “We can expect the fire season to reach more extreme.

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“The fires of the future are going to burn longer and more intensely.”

Previous research found that fire seasons are getting longer, along with an increase in the amount of forest burned. Jain and his colleagues wanted to see how extreme fire risk changed along with this.

They used a tool called the Fire Weather Index, a numerical rating that uses temperature and precipitation information to rate the risk of wildfires getting out of control.

In Alberta, a fire weather index of 19 is considered very high. Efforts to extinguish the ignited fire in such circumstances are likely to be outweighed.

From 1979 to 2020, the index for the interior of British Columbia climbed between 10 and 20 points. Globally, the index has grown by an average of 14 per cent.

Last summer, very hot, dry weather pushed the fire danger in BC into uncharted territory – which fire officials called “extremely extreme.” Shortly after, the village of Lytton was wiped out by a fire.

“Extreme fire season has extended over large parts of the Earth,” Jain said. “There are particular regions where there are big trends, such as western North America.”

Researchers found strong links between extreme fire season, temperature and humidity, which affect how dry forest fuels are.

“Most of the trends were explained by only those two tendencies,” Jain said. “It’s really just the fact that we have warming and drying events.”

Those trends are in line with predictions made by climate models, which all suggest the future will be hot and dry, he said.

“It just confirms that climate change is prolonging the fire season.”

Jain cautions that fires are also influenced by other factors, such as land use.

Jain said the study of the extremes of the fire season focused on forest fires that cause the most damage. In Alberta, 97 percent of wildfire damage is caused by three percent of fires.

Jain said that understanding where the fire risk is increasing the most can help fire officials plan for future fires.

“It is useful to know which areas are most affected by these increases in fire season.”

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