Key wildfire triggers in Canada and tips to prevent their ignition

BC Wildfire Service forecaster Brett Soderholm talks to The Weather Network's Kim MacDonald about what the major causes of wildfires are in Canada and what we can do to mitigate the threat.

2023 was an unprecedented wildfire season for Canada, with more hectares burned than at any time since record-keeping began.

Populations not normally concerned about wildfires, like in southern Ontario, were suddenly inundated with smoke wafting in from other provinces, making it hard to breathe.

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As wildfires made headlines, more people were asking the question, “What is the cause?” According to experts, the top two causes in Canada are lightning and people.

When we talk about human-caused fires, most of the time we are not talking about intentionally lighting a fire. We are referring to campfires, burning yard debris, and driving your ATV in the backcountry.

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A lot of fires that are human-caused are actually started by people that are out on their quads or 4x4 [vehicles]," says Brett Soderholm, a forecaster for BC Wildfire Service. "We can actually get sparks coming out of the exhaust that can then land on the ground and generate fires that way.”

In B.C. and the Yukon, in most seasons, it’s more likely for a fire to be started by lightning. In Alberta and New Brunswick, human activity is more likely, based on statistics.

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And lightning isn’t the only weather factor. When it comes to wildfires in Canada, we also have to consider heat and drought. That combination can make forests and grasslands ripe to catch fire. Add in wind, and now you have something to fan the flames.

We can’t control the lightning, but we can do our part to mitigate the risk.

“First and foremost, I would say adhering to any sort of restrictions or regulations that might be in place against open burning," says Soderholm. "So if there's a campfire ban in place, for example, we want to make sure that you're not doing that.”

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(Header image shows BC firefighter at Donnie Creek fire in 2023. Courtesy of BC Wildfire Service)