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Canada at risk of another devastating wildfire season, federal government warns

The federal government says Canada is at risk of another devastating wildfire season, after an unusually warm winter, widespread drought conditions and a forecast of above-normal temperatures in the months ahead.

Officials said during a technical briefing Wednesday that more dry, hot weather is expected this spring and summer, putting much of the country at greater risk of wildfires.

Much of the country, including southern Quebec, eastern Ontario and western Canada, faces early and higher than usual fire risk in April. Risks extend into May and through the summer, though officials stressed much depends on the level of precipitation during this period.

“It is impossible to predict the summer that lies ahead of us, but what is clear is that wildfires will represent a significant challenge for Canada into the future as the impacts of climate change continue to intensify. And the costs to Canadians are growing every single year,” said Harjit Sajjan, the federal government’s minister of emergency preparedness. 

Drought conditions, lower than usual snowpack

Last year was Canada’s worst wildfire season on record, based on a number of metrics, including the total area burned. 

The winter months did not bring much relief.

Already, more than 70 fires are burning, primarily in northern British Columbia, northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, officials said. 

Many of those are holdover fires that have been smouldering since last season.

Dry conditions and unusually low levels of snowpack across much of the country have made the landscape more susceptible to wildfire, officials said.

A map of the current drought situation from Agriculture Canada shows that much of the country is experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions.

WATCH | More than half of global forest lost to fire last year from Canada wildfire season:

Wildfires in Canada blamed for increase in global tree loss

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More than half of all the forest lost to fire last year was in Canada thanks to an unprecedented wildfire season, according to an annual survey published by the World Resources Institute.

The worst conditions — exceptional and extreme drought conditions — are in parts of southern Alberta, central and northern B.C. and southern N.W.T.

Canada experienced its warmest winter on record — with the three months of December to February being 5.2 C warmer than the norm since Canada began keeping records in 1948, according to David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Resources under strain

Last year’s wildfires put a strain on resources. In total, 5,500 firefighters from outside Canada were brought in to help with the fires.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he is in talks with other countries to better share resources to fight wildfires.

The federal government also announced it plans to double the tax credit available to volunteer firefighters and search-and-rescue volunteers in the upcoming budget. The government said the move targets rural communities, where firefighters are most often volunteers and they are confronting increasingly more frequent wildfires due to climate change.

The tax credit will increase from $3,000 to $6,000 for 2024 and subsequent tax years, saving volunteer firefighters up to $900 per year.

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