Expect more massive wildfires ahead for Canada, warns environment author
In the spring of 2016, a wildfire so unpredictable and intense — fire chief Darby Allen referred to it as "the beast" — raged through Fort McMurray, Alta.
That fire is a foreshadowing of things to come, according to Edward Struzik.
The author of Fire Storm: How Wildfire will Shape our Future says it was a miracle so many survived the inferno.
"The RCMP, the emergency response people, all admitted they expected thousands of people to be dead. The RCMP was already trying to figure out where they were going to have the morgue," Struzik tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
The summer of 2017 was officially the worst wildfire season in B.C history. Megafires scorched hundreds of thousands of hectares in B.C. and also Alberta, forcing thousands to flee to safety.
And Canada wasn't alone. Wildfires burned parts of Portugal, Spain and blackened California's wine country — leaving a path of destruction and dozens of deaths.
There's one estimate that we are going to have 50 per cent more lightning in the boreal forest of Canada by mid-century than we do now.- Edward Struzik
Struzik says we need to do more as we adapt to a future with bigger and more intense forest fires as climate change takes hold. He predicts more megafires as temperatures rise, winds get stronger and our forests become drier.
"The warmer it gets, the more lightning you are going to get. There's one estimate that we are going to have 50 per cent more lightning in the boreal forest of Canada by mid-century than we do now," Struzik explains.
- CBC News: Fort McMurray wildfire — by the numbers
- The Current: Canada not prepared for 'inevitable' wildfires, says environmental expert
These conditions have turned wildfires into a potentially uncontrollable threat to human lives and the places where we live, according to Struzik.
Struzik paints an apocalyptic scenario where the town of Banff catches fire and town officials are ill-prepared to evacuate the tourist mecca.
"You've got 35,000 people — tourists and residents — living in Banff and suddenly the trees and the fences and some of the wood homes start catching fire. How do you get everybody out?"
Struzik says Canadian government officials have made some progress on preparing us for a future with more megafires, but much more needs to be done.
"We need to have better building codes so that we don't have houses that are built in the boreal forest with cedar shake shingles. We got to educate people and tell them, you know, mulch is just a great way of bringing a fire to your house," he tells Tremonti.
"And planting ornamental cedars along the side of your house is probably not a good idea."
Listen to the full conversation above.
This segment was produced by Calgary network producer Michael O'Halloran.