More than 400 active wildfires burned across Canada on Wednesday, according to the authoritiesexacerbating a wildfire season that has forced the evacuations of tens of thousands, created a sense of anxiety across the sprawling country, and set off air quality alarms hundreds of miles south of the United States.
The danger from wildfires, which in recent weeks have stretched from British Columbia on the west coast to Nova Scotia nearly 2,900 miles away to the east, was driven home Tuesday in the nation’s political heartland. A thick haze hung over Parliament Hill and the imposing neo-Gothic building that houses the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. The sun was obscured by smoke, the sky an apocalyptic orange hue.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said hundreds of soldiers have been deployed across the country to help with firefighting efforts. “This is a scary time for a lot of people,” Trudeau said earlier this week, noting that many Canadians who have had to evacuate in recent days have only had a few hours to pack before fleeing their homes.
Bill Blair, the minister of emergency preparedness, told reporters last week that in May an area of about 2.7 million hectares, or about 6.7 million acres, of forest in Columbia Britannica, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and the Northwest Territories had been burned. “The equivalent of more than 5 million football fields have burned in Canada so far this year,” he wrote on TwitterA. He said the situation at the start of the season was “unprecedented”.
In a country known for its picturesque landscapes and order, out-of-control fires have fueled unease and underlined the dangers of global warming. Scientific research suggests that heat and drought associated with climate change are the main reasons for the increase of bigger and more intense wildfires affecting the country.
The fires also underlined the interconnectedness between Canada and its neighbor to the south with smoke from the hundreds of wildfires raging across eastern Canada casting a foggy pall over New York City and polluting air quality from Minnesota to Massachusetts.
Millions of Canadians in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal woke up Wednesday to a haze of smoke over swathes of their cities, as the fires that gripped the country spread to the political and financial centers of the country.
In Ottawa, air quality levels have remained dangerously high and health officials have advised people to wear N95 masks when outside and to try to avoid outdoor activities.
As smoke from more than 140 Quebec fires wafted across Ontario, some residents in Toronto, the country’s largest city and its financial center, faced hazy skies and the smell of acrid smoke on Wednesday. Meteorologists said they expect the plume of smoke to get worse on Thursday due to the winds, and Environment Canada warned residents to prepare for worsening air quality.
Outdoor excursions and breaks at some schools have been moved indoors. The Ottawa Redblacks, the city’s Canadian Football League team, have moved from outdoor to indoor practice.
The fires in Quebec have displaced some 10,000 people from their homes, mostly in the eastern Côte-Nord region and western Abitibi region.
The fires were also damaging businesses, with many mining companies suspend operations in Quebec.
Fires have already rocked British Columbia and Alberta, an oil and gas-producing province, where residents of its largest city, Calgary, have sat down to breakfast for the past few weeks as pungent smoke seeped from cracks under the roofs. house doors.
On Canada’s east coast, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a fire late last month forced the evacuation of more than 16,000 people.
Michael Mehta, an environmental social scientist and professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, said the visceral reality of smoke billowing over major cities could prompt renewed debate about the risks of climate change.
Until now, he said, many on the east coast had not been exposed, firsthand, to the health risks of air pollution from wildfires that have gripped western provinces in recent years. “There’s essentially a disconnect,” she said. “They haven’t had this experience.”