Wildfires update: Will there be smoke all summer?

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The sun hidden behind wildfire smoke on June 6.

Local residents may have noticed that it has been a while since several consecutive days of thick smoke adversely impacted both visibility and air quality. While the occasional haze can still be seen some days, more recently, the worst of the smoke seems to be gone – for now. What is happening with the wildfires in parts of Quebec, Ontario, and other parts of Canada?

By last week, over 4,400 wildfires had been reported in Canada this year. Smoke has been so intense that it has been blown across the ocean, reaching Europe. Forest fires are certainly not new in Canada or in most other parts of the world, but their intensity is growing. Human-started wildfires are becoming less common, with more than half of all wildfires now being ignited by lightning strikes. Unfortunately, the benefits of humans becoming more careful are being cancelled out by the dry, hot conditions that make it easier for lightning strikes to ignite forest materials. 

Climate change is happening. The magnitude of the impact that human behaviour has on it and the particular human activities that make a difference will always be up for debate, but recorded data shows without a doubt that the world is slowly becoming hotter and drier. These are perfect conditions for large, hard to control fires to ignite and rage on for weeks.

Locally, the consequences of the wildfires have been most significantly felt in air quality. Some outdoor events – including children’s sporting events and even recess time during some school days – had to be cancelled over air quality concerns. The smoke may not noticeably affect some healthy, average people, but others who are more vulnerable can be seriously at risk when air quality is poor, particularly people with asthma. 

Will there be smoke all summer? Thankfully, the worst of the smoke is likely behind us, at least for this year. To think that smoky fire seasons will not continue into the future, year after year, would be foolish. Specifically, regarding smoke in the Ottawa area, Peter Kimbell, a warning preparedness meteorologist for Environment Canada, told the CBC “We may have an episode or two, but they probably will become more and more spaced-out and less and less frequent.” 

In the meantime, local residents will surely not take for granted the days when we can look out and see crystal clear skies. 

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