The early-season heat and wildfires set the stage for a long, smoky summer in western Canada, where seasonal and long-term forecasts predict more heat and forest losses.
Western Canada has experienced a prolonged and scorching heat wave resulting in numerous high-temperature records being broken last week.
On Monday, the Canadian Government predicted a ‘higher than normal’ fire risk – introducing several measures to address the evolving national emergency.
As of Tuesday, the 6th of June 2023 (11 pm AEST), there are currently 62 wildfires raging in Alberta alone, with satellite images showing billowing smoke spreading into the United States.
The intense wildfires are reminiscent of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, considered one of Canada’s worst natural disasters.
More than 260 Australasian firefighters and incident controllers deployed
Yesterday, 49 additional Australian resources were deployed to assist the Canadians with forest fire management.
Joining the 220 personnel already in Canada include 28 personnel from the Rural Fire Service, 10 from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, six from Forestry Corporation, four from Fire and Rescue NSW, and one from the NSW State Emergency Service.
Forestry Corporation firefighters include Jamie Harris from Wauchope, Matt Model from Bonny Hills, Vince Bolton from Grafton, Dave Anderson from Bathurst, Jarod Addinsall from Eden, and Anthony Post from Tumut.
Anthony Post has worked with Forestry Corporation in the Snowy Region for 39 years and has experience fighting numerous fires across NSW.
“Canadian crews have often been part of these campaigns in Australia as summer term employees and this is my chance to give back and assist in their firefighting effort,” Anthony said.
“I am looking forward to experiencing their different firefighting techniques and methods and sharing ours,” he said.
Jarod Addinsall said it was a great privilege and opportunity to apply his firefighting skill set and knowledge in another country.
“I am excited to travel to Canada and contribute to the firefighting campaign,” Jarod said.
“I expect to learn a great deal and experience different forests and culture whilst helping Canadian communities through a very challenging time.
“I am grateful that FCNSW has provided us this opportunity to represent the business and my community abroad; it is a privilege that I do not take lightly,” he said.
Forestry Corporation is one of four statutory firefighting authorities in NSW. It manages fire in around two million hectares of native and plantation forests as part of NSW’s combined firefighting efforts.
Dave Anderson said it was a great opportunity for Australian fire specialists to repay the Canadian crews that assisted Australia during the Black Saturday bushfire season in 2019/20.
“This will be a great learning experience and the opportunity for us to work with Canadian firefighters again,” Dave said.
“We have employed seasonal staff from Canada for many seasons and value their work ethic and skills.
“I have been deployed within New South Wales and interstate, but never overseas. This is a first for me,” he said.
Vince Bolton has worked with Forestry Corporation for 11 years and has worked on the ground leading crews in many different fire situations, including the North Coast’s 2019/20 bushfire emergency.
“I am looking forward to using the skills I have learnt over the years to help out in Canada,” Vince said.
“Some of the challenges will be adapting to working in native conifer forests unlike our eucalyptus forests in Australia with different fire behaviour, working in very remote locations and lots of hand tool work. Long days and hard work ahead,” he said.
For East Timor veteran Matt Model, the Canadian deployment follows closely after his return from the United Kingdom, where he represented Australia at the World Military Rowing Competition.
Matt, an Invictus Games champion, won three gold medals for Australia in the 500m, 1km, and 2km rowing events for competitors aged 30 to 39 years.
From representing Australia on the oars, he’ll do his country proud on the Canadian firefronts where crews are battling 416 uncontained fires.
“I had only just landed in Sydney last Wednesday from the UK and had a message from the fire branch that a second deployment to Canada was happening and I jumped at the chance,” Matt said.
“We will fly out for Canada on Wednesday after attending a briefing with the RFS in Sydney on Tuesday to learn more about the current fire situation in Alberta.
“I think the wildfires in Canada will present a lot of challenges and different dynamics to how we fight fires here in Australia.
“I’ve heard from some of our guys over there already that it involves a lot of arduous activity.
“Heaps of dry firefighting with hand tools and strenuous activity on foot in elevated terrain eight to 12 hours a day.”
The Forestry Corporation’s specialists will undertake a 42-day deployment in Canada.
Climate experts weigh in on climate change links
“This is a very unusual pattern,” said Terri Lang, a warning preparedness meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“We don’t often see these patterns set up this early in the year. We see these patterns in the summer,” she said.
Lang explains that it can take scientists several months to determine whether a particular weather anomaly results from climate change and the warming of the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.
However, the observed events are in line with the predictions made by climate scientists for western Canada.
The early-season heat and wildfires, which displaced nearly 20,000 people last week and threatened some oil extraction operations as of Tuesday last week, have set the stage for a long, smoky summer in western Canada, where seasonal and long-term forecasts predict more heat.
The heat wave in June 2021 was caused by a ridge of high pressure, contributing to more than 860 deaths in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.
Meanwhile, the hot weather has made fire danger in Alberta extreme. The wildfires could also affect global energy prices. Wildfires forced some Canadian shale operators to halt work this month, according to Rystad Energy, an independent energy research firm.
Rystad estimates that at least 240,000 barrels of oil could not be pumped daily because of outages.
In the meantime, the heat is scrambling ecosystems in other areas of Canada. In British Columbia, the warmth has prompted a rapid melt-out of mountain snow that left officials dealing with flood and fire evacuations simultaneously.