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Wildfire roundup: What you need to know about blazes burning across Canada

The battle against hundreds of wildfires continues in Canada, as many jurisdictions are under either heat or air quality warnings from the federal government. Here’s a look at developments Thursday:
Smoke from wildfires burning across both Ontario and Quebec blanket the skyline in Kingston, Ont., Tuesday, June 6, 2023. The battle against hundreds of wildfires continues in Canada, as many jurisdictions are under either heat or air quality warnings from the federal government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

The battle against hundreds of wildfires continues in Canada, as many jurisdictions are under either heat or air quality warnings from the federal government. Here’s a look at developments Thursday:

Number of wildfires decreases slightly

The number of wildfires burning across the country decreased slightly with 431 fires burning in nine provinces and two territories.

That’s down from 441 on Wednesday, with Quebec extinguishing 10 fires.

The number of out-of-control fires also fell to 234 from 256, including a change in status for more than a dozen fires in Quebec.

The fires and smoke affecting millions of Canadians prompted a debate in the House of Commons, with members of Parliament expressing solidarity with those affected and discussing the role of climate change.

Evacuation order in northeastern B.C.

An evacuation order has been issued for residents in the District of Tumbler Ridge, a community of 2,400 people in northeastern B.C., due to the threat posed by an encroaching wildfire.

The BC Wildfire Service says the fire, about 96 square kilometres in size, is spreading aggressively and isn’t responding to suppression efforts.

Meanwhile, air quality advisories have been issued for part of Vancouver Island and a large section of the Lower Mainland.

Two out-of-control wildfires east of Vancouver, plus a blaze on Vancouver Island, are contributing to the smudgy skies.

Environment Canada says a shift in weather could cut the smoke and showers are likely across the lower quarter of the province for Friday.

However, rain is not expected in parts of parched northeastern B.C. until at least next week and the forecast shows temperatures should remain well above average through the weekend.

Alberta premier downplays link between wildfires and climate change

Premier Danielle Smith says the government is bringing in arson investigators from outside the province to trace the cause of unprecedented wildfires in Alberta.

When asked how she reconciles her United Conservative Party government’s energy policies with experts linking this year’s extreme fire season to climate change, Smith said she is concerned about arson.

Smith also said Alberta needs to do a better job building fireguards around communities.

She isn’t the only politician to downplay the link between wildfires and climate change, but scientists have said fires are larger and more intense due to climate change.

Canadian smoke continues to choke U.S. capital

Air quality alerts in Washington reached “code purple” status, one notch below the “maroon” levels, indicating hazardous air conditions. It’s also in effect throughout parts of Maryland, including Baltimore.

But tourists in the U.S. capital are taking Canada’s prodigious wildfire smoke in stride.

Usual crowds of visitors jammed sidewalks along the National Mall, outside the White House and on the Capitol grounds, with a handful opting for face masks.

President Joe Biden says he has promised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau any additional help Canada might need to fight the wildfires.

The U.S. National Interagency Fire Center, which has already deployed more than 600 U.S. firefighters, is on standby to assist with Canadian requests for additional personnel and equipment.

Wildfire smoke blankets Toronto

Canada’s most populous city is experiencing hazy skies and poor air quality as smoke from wildfires in Ontario and Quebec moves in.

Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued a special air quality statement for Toronto, southwestern Ontario and the Niagara region, warning of high levels of pollution and poor air quality.

Some school boards and the City of Toronto are moving outdoor activities inside, while other recreation programs have been cancelled.

The city also says it has outreach teams connecting with people experiencing homelessness, conducting wellness checks, providing water and encouraging them to come indoors.

There are 56 active forest fires in Ontario, with 27 listed as out of control.

Wildfire within 500 metres of Quebec municipality

Quebec’s wildfire fight is focused in the province’s northern region where flames are burning close to a municipality of roughly 800 people.

Authorities say a wildfire is within 500 metres of Normétal, 720 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

Quebec is facing its worst wildfire season on record and there are 146 active fires still burning.

Firefighters from France and the province of New Brunswick are being brought in and authorities expect other firefighters from Portugal, Spain and Mexico to join them.

Premier François Legault says the wildfire situation is expected to remain stable over the next 48 hours but residents displaced by fires likely won’t be able to return home until early next week.

More evacuation orders to be lifted for Halifax-area residents

More residents from Halifax subdivisions that sustained significant damage from a wildfire may be able to return home as additional evacuation orders are expected to be lifted.

More than 16,000 people were forced to flee after fire broke out on May 28 and destroyed 150 homes, but several evacuation orders have since been lifted for the Upper Tantallon and Hammonds Plains areas.

Though the fire was largely contained over the weekend, about 4,000 people are still waiting to return to their homes northwest of the city’s downtown.

In southwestern Nova Scotia, the 234-square-kilometre Barrington Lake fire is being held in place but officials say it remains out of control.

That blaze destroyed 60 homes and cottages, and another 150 structures.

Experts worry Canada losing water bomber expertise

Aviation experts say Canada is losing expertise in the manufacturing of water bombers — just as demand for them is increasing.

John Gradek, co-ordinator of McGill University’s aviation management program, says he thinks provinces need more water bombers but the made-in-Canada plane hasn’t been produced since 2015.

He says there are 55 Canadair tanker planes in Canada and, considering the number of fires, it’s insufficient.

He says that while a B.C. company is expected to start building the water bombers again in 2027, the manufacturer has already received enough orders from other countries to keep its factory busy for more than two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.

The Canadian Press