Early wildfires mean B.C. has already broken its record for carbon emissions in May

An unusually early start to the wildfire season in British Columbia has unleashed record-setting carbon emissions in the province for May, according to a global monitoring agency.

The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service released new data on Thursday, showing wildfire emissions in B.C. are already the highest for the month compared with the past 22 years, when the agency’s record keeping began.

“Following the highly impactful wildfires that burned across Canada in 2023, the scale and intensity of the current fires in British Columbia is highly concerning so early in the season,” said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist with Copernicus.  

“The scale of the ongoing fires, and their impacts on local communities and the atmosphere, underscore the urgent need for continuous monitoring and assessment.”

Just halfway through the month, wildfire emissions in British Columbia this May have already surpassed twice the previous highest recorded, with Canada’s total emissions also one of the highest on record, according to Copernicus.

Total estimated carbon emissions from wildfires from May 1 to 15 amounted to around 15 megatonnes, of which the B.C. fires account for over 12 megatonnes, Copernicus said.

The agency’s calculations are based on near-real time observations of the location and intensity of active wildfires to estimate the emissions of pollutants.

Smoky skies

Last year’s record-setting season produced massive amounts of smoke that resulted in dangerous air quality in cities across North America and beyond. The emissions from the fires were nearly triple the previous record.

An analysis focused on Quebec’s historic season found climate change more than doubled the chances of hot, dry weather that helped fuel the fire season.

This week, smoke from wildfires in British Columbia and Alberta led to hazy skies that extended into the U.S. Midwest.

Already this year, fires have threatened Fort Nelson, B.C., forcing thousands to leave their homes, as well as some neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray, Alta.

The Parker Lake fire, the largest in northeastern B.C., last measured at 127 square kilometres in size and was still classified Thursday as out of control by the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The service said cooler temperatures and higher relative humidity were expected to make for more favourable conditions over the next couple of days fighting the fire that was only two kilometres southwest of the town earlier this week.

WATCH | Signs of hope as weaker winds ease wildfire danger in Fort McMurray:

Signs of hope as weaker winds ease wildfire danger in Fort McMurray

2 days ago

Duration 1:31:52

Wednesday, May 15 – A wildfire that forced more than 6,600 people from their homes in Fort McMurray continues to grow, threatening a northeastern Alberta community that was ravaged by fire eight years ago.

Wildfire risk in month ahead

A new forecast for the wildfire season by Ouranos, a Quebec-based climate service, said widespread drought conditions combined with temperatures well above seasonal normals could increase the risk of forest fires, particularly in northwestern Quebec, the Prairie provinces and western and northern Canada. 

“Some specialists are also concerned about the possible resurgence of certain forest fires, particularly in the Northwest Territories, where blazes dating back to last year have never been completely extinguished, despite the winter,” Ouranos noted.

Federal officials said last week British Columbia, Alberta and Alberta faced an above-average risk in May and June, along with parts of northern Canada.

Julienne Morissette, director of wildland policy research and operations at Natural Resources Canada, said rainfall in many provinces had suppressed many wildfires, but noted the situation could change quickly. 

She said “the risk of damaging wildfires remains significant, driven by warm temperatures and drought.”


Posted in CBC