US and Canada struggle to contain hundreds of wildfires

Fires are burning in 12 US states and three Canadian provinces

An army of more than 25,000 firefighters and support personnel are working across the western US to battle at least 104 large wildfires that are blazing in 12 states, while more than 250 fires are burning across the western Canadian province of British Columbia.

In drought-stricken California, the worst-affected state, about 6,000 firefighters are battling the Dixie Fire, which is the second-largest wildfire in the state's history.

The fire in the northern part of the state, which has been burning for more than a month, has torn through about 255,000 hectares of land and destroyed buildings and infrastructure.

Firefighters have gained control of roughly 35 per cent of the fire but authorities estimate it will not be fully contained for at least another month.

On Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for El Dorado County due to the Caldor Fire, which has ravaged about 9,300 ha of land in only four days.

Mr Newsom is currently in a recall election after Republican opponents filed petitions against the Democratic governor, citing his mismanagement of the pandemic. Voters received mail-in ballots on August 16 and an in-person vote will take place on September 14.

While California has been the worst-hit state so far this year, Montana has the highest number of large fires actively burning with 27.

"It's been a very active season, so far,” Stanton Florea, a representative for the US National Interagency Fire Centre, told The National.

“There's been large, destructive fires that have impacted communities. We've seen outbreaks of lightning fires across public lands in more rural remote areas. And yet again, we're likely to see at least another six, maybe 10 weeks of active fire season.”

In Canada, this season's fires have been particularly aggressive.

British Columbia currently has 258 active fires, with 27 new blazes igniting in the past week alone.

In June, a fire engulfed the small village of Lytton in British Columbia’s interior, effectively wiping it off the map. Two people died in the blaze and the entire community was razed.

Days before the devastating fire started, Lytton recorded a temperature of 49.9°C, the highest temperature recorded in Canadian history.

Canada is in the midst of a federal election and the fires are playing a role in the campaign.

“We are in a climate emergency,” said Justin Trudeau, the current prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party.

“We’ve taken real action to protect our environment and grow our economy since 2015, but we know that we need to be bigger and bolder in the fight against climate change. The safety and security of Canadians is at stake and we have to act now.”

At a campaign stop in Vancouver, Mr Trudeau promised to spend $500 million on training 1,000 firefighters before next year’s fire season.

Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole criticised Mr Trudeau for calling an election when the people of British Columbia are experiencing such a difficult fire season.

“Last Sunday, you put your own political interests ahead of the people of British Columbia who are dealing with the damage and devastation of one of the worst wildfire seasons in recent memory,” Mr O’Toole wrote in a letter to Mr Trudeau.

The fire season, which historically peaks in July, has shown no signs of abating.

Updated: August 19th 2021, 3:52 PM
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