'Tornadoes of fire' linked to climate change

Extreme drought cause of wildfires in Canada's Northwest Territories

July 14, 2014

Climate change is responsible for more frequent and larger forest fires, such as the ones now plaguing the Northwest Territories, says an Edmonton professor.

These forest fires in rain-deprived western Canada have been described by a witness as “tornadoes of fire.”

“What we are seeing in the Northwest territories this year is an indicator or what to expect with climate change,” says Mike Flannigan, a professor of Wildland Fire in the University of Alberta’s renewable resources department. “Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.”

He added about 7,722 square miles of forest area burn every year in Canada, about twice as much as in the 1970s.

He added about 2 million hectares (7,722 square miles) of forest area burn every year in Canada, about twice as much as in the 1970s.

Canada’s Northwest Territories, at the same longitude as Alaska, has been the site of forest fires this summer caused by dry conditions meteorological models predict for 40 years from now, said Dave Phillips, senior climatologist of Environmental Canada.

“It’s just almost as if there’s no weather around,” he says. “We’ve seen, for example, in the last six weeks, precipitation in Yellowknife is only about 20 per cent of what it should be. You’re just not seeing any rain.”

This weekend, the wildfires left a 13-kilometer-long scar along the main highway up to Yellowknife, forced an evacuation of a fishing lodge on Great Slave Lake and had cabin owners fearing for their properties.

Phillips says apart for a 30 per cent chance of rain Monday night, there’s no rain on the horizon for the next two months.


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