Canadian wildfire dangers should prompt more proactive mitigation from government: Experts

(NEW YORK) — As Canada and the U.S. continue to feel the lasting effects of the ongoing wildfires raging in the Great White North, environmental experts are pushing for long-term changes that they say can mitigate the damage from future blazes.

And with climate change making these once unprecedented wildfire events commonplace, those experts said governments on both sides of the border need to act fast.

“It has been an issue because we don’t have a strong federal government and it’s left us in this mess right now, Robert Gray, a wildland fire ecologist based in British Columbia, told ABC News.

Gray, who has studied wildfires in both the U.S. and Canada, said that higher temperatures, and dryer conditions have left the land in the eastern Canadian wilderness more susceptible to larger wildfires.

Even one lightning strike on a tree or brush could be detrimental as there is much more wood to keep the fire burning for a long time.

“These fires are reburning past fires that have been not that old,” he said. “The trees fall down and then it’s basically available to burn again.”

As for the current situation, some experts said the terrain and severity of the fire make it difficult to put out quickly.

“Because of the size of the fires, the weather is going to be the only thing now that’s going put them out. That means major rain, and in some areas, possibly snowfall,” Gray said.

John Gradek, a faculty lecturer and the coordinator of McGill University’s aviation management program, told ABC News that Canada doesn’t have a unified government entity that manages the country’s forests and handles disasters that take place in multiple provinces.

Those responsibilities lie with each province’s government, and because of that, he said there is not a coordinated effort between Quebec and Ontario with the current situation.

But even without that national oversight, Gradek said that emergency response teams can start to implement mitigation techniques that have been proven to curb forest fires.

For example, in locations such as British Columbia, California and Colorado, which have had more experience with major wildfires, forestry teams will do controlled fires to clear the underbrush at the beginning of the season, Gradek said.

“In the wildlands of the Quebec forests there is no prescribed program to clean up the forest floor,” he said.

Gradek said that government groups can also plan before the warmer months by deploying fire retardant substances from the air to lessen the chance of a spread once wildfire season starts.

Negar Elhami-Khorasani, an associate professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering at the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, told ABC News that at the very least local and federal governments should come up with policies and strategies that provide fair warning about the dangers of the wildfires.

Similar to hurricane plans near coastal cities, Elhami-Khorasani said it wouldn’t take too much time or resources to warn residents who live and work near wildfire-prone areas in Canada about dangers during wildfire season.

“Prior to the event, completing a risk evaluation and creating tools to predict what can happen can guide mitigation actions,” she added.

Gray emphasized that increased wildfires are a multinational problem throughout North America, and both the U.S. and Canada need to prioritize wildfire mitigation in all areas of the country as he predicted that this summer’s events will become more common.

“There is a political will to do this, and there is an outcry in the U.S. that is raising the word on the impact,” he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

SHARE NOW