Canada still faces a high risk of wildfires for the rest of the summer, government warns

With 2023 now officially the worst wildfire season in Canadian history, federal ministers warned Thursday that the fire risk will remain very high across the country for the rest of the summer.

Canada has seen 3,415 wildfires to date, with 648 still raging and 339 burning out of control

Orange sky, huge plume of smoke and line of fire in a dark coniferous forest.
Canada has seen 3,415 wildfires this year to date, with 648 still burning and 339 burning out of control. (Audrey Marcoux/Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU))

With 2023 officially the worst wildfire season in Canadian history, the federal government is warning that the fire risk will remain very high across the country for the rest of the summer.

"Drought conditions, when coupled with above-normal temperatures across most of the country, means that the risk of fire activity is going to remain very high throughout the majority of the summer," Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told a media briefing Thursday.

"Quite apparently, 2023 now carries the unfortunate distinction of being Canada's worst wildfire season on record."

Although the wildfire risk is expected to ease slightly in August, Blair said it will remain high in the North, Western Canada, Ontario and Western Quebec.

Blair was joined at the media briefing by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Liberal MP for Davenport, Ont. Julie Dzerowicz.

They said there have been 3,415 wildfires this year to date, with 648 still burning and 339 burning out of control. 

That's a marked increase over the situation in early June, when a media briefing with government ministers confirmed that 211 fires were burning, 82 of them out of control.

WATCH | Ottawa says 2023 fire season is unprecedented:  

2023 already the worst Canadian wildfire season by several metrics

10 months ago
Duration 2:13
New numbers from the federal government show the 2023 wildfire season is already the worst on record in terms of area burned, number of evacuees and number of foreign firefighters assisting — and we're only halfway through the season.

Blair said Thursday wildfires have consumed 8.8 million hectares of forest so far and have displaced almost 5,000 people across the country.

Blair told reporters last month that in May, roughly 2.7 million hectares of forest had been lost to wildfires in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories.

The number of hectares burned as of July 5 has risen to nearly 11 times the average amount of forest burned over the last ten years.

Climate change driving wildfires, say Tam, ministers

The ministers said hundreds of international firefighters are in Canada helping to contain wildfires, including volunteers from the United States, Mexico, South Korea, Chile, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Portugal, the European Union, France, South Africa and Spain.

"This summer, we are witnessing the effects of climate change first-hand as Canada continues to experience more intense and frequent severe weather events," Tam said.

A firefighter directs water on a grass fire burning on an acreage behind a residential property in Kamloops, British Columbia on June 5, 2023. (AP)

Mike Flannigan, who studies wildfire management at Thompson Rivers University, has told CBC News that hot weather brings more lightning strikes, which trigger more fires.

He said that while lightning causes only half of the fires in Canada, fires caused by lightning consume more than 85 per cent of the area destroyed by wildfires annually.

Ministers also announced Thursday that Canada has signed a memorandum of understanding with Portugal to help mitigate wildfires and protect "communities in the face of climate change–driven threats."

The agreement lays out procedures for exchanging firefighting resources between the two countries.

"By setting out this framework arrangement, reciprocal support will be able to flow more efficiently, including resources, personnel and knowledge-sharing, thereby enhancing our ability to fight wildland fires on both sides of the Atlantic," said Dzerowicz.


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.