January is usually a quiet month for B.C.’s Wildfire Service. The Pacific Northwest’s cold temperatures and buckets of near-daily rain mean there aren’t a lot of forest fires burning throughout the province during the winter
This year, however, a growing number of B.C. firefighters are working hard in Australia.
“Record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought have fuelled a series of massive bushfires across Australia,” reads a January 6 report by BBC News.
“At least 24 people have so far been killed—including three volunteer firefighters—and more than 6.3 million hectares (63,000 sq km or 15.6 million acres) of bush, forest and parks have been burned.”
For comparison, the worst year on record for B.C. wildfires was 2018, when 1.35 million hectares of forest burned. (Granted, Australia is a larger landmass than B.C.)
The B.C. Wildfire Service sent seven firefighters to Australia on December 3 and then another six on December 20. They’re serving there among a total of 45 Canadian firefighters currently in Australia on 38-day deployments.
Canada and Australia routinely exchange firefighting resources. That’s because Canada’s forest-fire season occurs during Australia’s winter and Australia’s occurs during Canada’s winter. But the relationship has become more complicated as each country’s wildfire season lasts longer and grows more intense.
A January 2018 paper by researchers at the University of Victoria explains that while B.C. has always experienced wildfires, the effects of human-caused climate change are making such fires more intense.
“Researchers found that the extreme high temperatures were made 20 times more likely by human-induced climate change,” reads a summary of the paper. “They also found the area burned seven to 11 times larger than would have been expected without human influence on the climate. Extreme temperatures combined with dry conditions increase the likelihood of wildfire ignition and its spread.
“This profound influence of climate change on forest fire extremes in B.C., which is likely reflected in other regions and expected to intensify in the future, will require increasing attention in forest management, public health, and infrastructure.”