Canadian wildfire smoke could choke North America 'until September': report

Canadian wildfire smoke could choke North America 'until September': report
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 7: Visitors at Summit One Vanderbilt look out at a smoke-shrouded Manhattan as wildfires in Canada continue to blanket the city on June 7, 2023 in New York City. New York topped the list of most polluted major cities in the world on Tuesday night, as smoke from the fires continues to blanket the East Coast. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images).

Editor's note: A citation to The Atlantic was added.

Smoke from the more than five hundred climate-change-driven wildfires raging throughout Canada is choking large swaths of the United States and has spread as far as Europe — and the question of when they will end is burning in the minds of the millions of people whom they are affecting.

In Saturday's edition of The Atlantic, correspondent Caroline Mimbs Nyce dove into what is driving the infernos and why their scope is so unprecedented.

"The problem is, Canada is not trying to put out just one fire. Right now, a map from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre shows a country spotted red with blazes, like it's come down with a nasty case of chicken pox," Nyce wrote. "Remarkably, these fires aren't clustered in a single region: Their spread is the northern equivalent of New York and California burning at the same time, with additional fires stretched in between. According to the CIFFC, more than 509 fires are active in Canada, 253 of which are classified as 'out of control.'"

READ MORE: Are we truly fated to live on a smoke bomb of a planet?

Because every blaze is unique, Nyce explained, predicting when they will be quenched is a tall task.

"Particularly nasty fires can certainly take weeks or months to resolve," Nyce pointed out. "California's largest fire on record, the August Complex, burned for 87 days, while its second-largest, the Dixie fire, burned for more than 100 days. In 2017, Canada's Elephant Hill fire burned for well over two months."

Other major factors, Nyce noted, are the materials that are being consumed, local weather conditions, and geography.

"So—when will this all be over?" Nyce wondered. "In Canada, the mean duration of a fire that's more than 1,000 hectares (or a little less than four square miles) is 23 days—or a little over three weeks, according to Jain. Meanwhile, a fire that's more than 10,000 hectares (about 40 square miles) burns for a mean duration of 39 days. Some of the fires active now have been burning for weeks; others are just beginning: In the past 10 hours alone, CIFFC logged three additional fires."

READ MORE: 'They have a human component': Canadian wildfires set off heated political debate in US

Crucially, Bruce MacNab, the head of Wildland Fire Information Systems with Natural Resources Canada stressed to Nyce, "Some of these fires in [the] northern boreal forest of Canada right now are enormous... and it would take some huge rain events to completely stop them."

Nyce also spoke with Karine Pelletier of Quebec's forest-firefighting agency SOPFEU, who told Nyce that "barring many heavy periods of rainfall, the agency expects firefighting operations to last until September."

Nyce's full analysis continues at this link (subscription required).

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