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Climate change made record wildfire season worse, here's how

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Sunday, October 22, 2017, 4:13 PM - With more than 12,000 square kilometres scorched across British Columbia, the 2017 wildfire season has been deemed the worst on record, and a University of Alberta scientist says human-induced climate change has made it easier for fires to spread.

At the peak of the season, over 45,000 people were displaced. Most recently, damaging winds across the southern Prairies help fan wildfires, triggering evacuations near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border.

"The amount of fire activity in Canada, which currently is about 2½ million hectares -- about half the size of Nova Scotia -- has doubled since the 1970s," Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta told The Canadian Press.

Not only has Canada experienced a record-breaking season, it's been a historic year for wildfires across the globe, Flannigan highlighted.

"There's been deadly fires and historic fires in Chile, Portugal -- twice -- and California," he told the news agency. "It's been quite a devastating year globally and the California fires will be the most expensive... [with] tens of billions in losses."

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While climate change cannot be blamed solely for the increase in fires, it has made for more aggressive behaviour, according to Flannigan.

"With warmer temperatures, the fuels will be drier, and when a fire goes through, there's more fuel to consume," he told The Canadian Press. "It makes it more extreme. Winds are a little stronger, the temperatures are a little higher and it's a little drier."

Be in the know about wildfire danger with the latest FOREST FIRE WATCH map.

Many fires in Western Canada this year were triggered by dry-lightning, a weather phenomenon that increases with warmer weather, Flannigan added.

There's a 12 per cent increase in lightning for every degree the temperatures rises, he told the news agency.

B.C. wildfire service: Human caused fires vs. lightning caused fires

Alberta has been the "epicentre in the Canadian context of the majority of the severe weather events in the last number of years," Insurance Bureau of Canada's western vice president Bill Adams told The Canadian Press.

According to Adams, in the last decade disasters in Alberta have accounted for about 70 per cent of all claims paid out.

"The whole issue of climate change and the severe weather that results from it has been discussed for years... but really in the last decade we've just seen an explosion in the incidents and the severity of these extreme weather events," Adams told the news agency.

"It's really a continuation of what we've seen for many years where the traditional weather patterns that we've grown up with ... we can't rely on them any longer."

SOURCE: The Canadian Press

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