Bigger Fort McMurrays may lie ahead, research warns

Bigger Fort McMurrays may lie ahead, research warns | Insurance Business Canada

Bigger Fort McMurrays may lie ahead, research warns
The Fort McMurray disaster may be just a taste of what’s ahead – as the warming climate looks to increase large forest fires in Canada by 50% by the end of the century.  

A new report from Natural Resources Canada has revealed that climate change will have a significant impact on forest fires in the coming years.

While the Fort McMurray wildfire that covered 590,000 hectares is expected to become the largest insurance loss in Canadian history, the increasing size of fires may mean that the record will be quickly outstripped.

The area burned by forest fires each year is expected to double by the turn of the century, according to the report, which was released last week.

“Climate change is gradually imposing an increasing trend on forest fires, a trend that is partially masked by the large variability of this disturbance,” says the report.

Steve Taylor, a Victoria-based research scientist at NRCan's Pacific Forestry Centre, told the Canadian Press that it is now “well accepted” among the small scientific community studying forest fires, that a warming climate will lead to more fire activity, but with great regional variations and differing impacts depending on fire management.

The study of activity in 2015 found that the total number of forest fires, at 7,068, was slightly above the 10-year average, but the area burned was 50% higher, at 3.9m hectares.

Forest fires forced the evacuation of 125 communities affecting about 15,000 people during the year.

Fires in Saskatchewan burned at three times the 10-year average for the province, and Alberta experienced fires at more than twice its 10-year average. In Quebec, however, the area burned in 2015 was less than 2% of its 10-year average.

The research also found that even if international efforts succeed in limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, that increase will still result in a four-degree Celsius increase for Canada.

“We don’t want to say necessarily the sky is falling, but it should motivate some concern and activity,” Taylor said of the report.

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