Human influences played a major role in B.C.’s 2017 wildfire season and significantly increased the risk of wildfires, says a study by research scientists from the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The study, which compared two scenarios in climate simulations – one with realistic amounts of human influence on the climate and one with minimal human influence – found that the extreme summer temperatures during the 2017 B.C. forest fire season were made more than 20 times more likely by human-induced climate change.
Researchers found that the extreme high temperatures combined with dry conditions increase the likelihood of wildfire ignition and spread.
The 1.2 million hectares burned in 2017 set a record – only to be surpassed in 2018. Through their research, the scientists concluded that the area burned was seven to 11 times larger than would have been expected without human influences on the climate. The scientists also found this is a trend that is likely to intensify in the future, without further action.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the extreme 2017 forest fire season in B.C. caused 65,000 people to be displaced from their homes, and millions to be exposed to smoke-filled air harmful to human health.
“As the climate continues to warm, we can expect that costly extreme wildfire seasons – like 2017 in B.C. – will become more likely in the future. This will have increasing impacts on many sectors, including forest management, public health, and infrastructure,” said Megan Kirchmeier-Young, research scientist, Environment and Climate Change Canada.