Indicator: Forest fires

Why is this indicator important?

Forest fires present a challenge for forest management because they have the potential to be at once harmful and beneficial. Fires can threaten communities directly or with smoke, resulting in public safety concerns and costly economic losses. They can also destroy vast amounts of timber resources, although some timber from burned areas can be salvaged for use in forest products. On the other hand, forest fires are a natural part of the forest ecosystem and are important in many parts of Canada for maintaining the health and diversity of the forest.

Information on trends in the fire situation across the country is important for assessing both the health of Canada’s forests and the effects of the changing climate.

What has changed and why?

With warmer, drier climatic conditions, the severity of fire weather conditions in Canada appears to have increased, and the fire season has become longer, with more fires burning in April and October than in previous years.

In 2015, a total of 7,068 forest fires burned about 3.9 million hectares (ha):

  • While the number of fires was slightly above its 10-year average, the area burned was about 50% above the 10-year average.
  • Saskatchewan had three times its 10-year average in area burned, at more than 1.76 million ha.
  • Alberta had more than twice its 10-year average, with just below 500,000 ha burned.
  • In natural parks across the country, the area burned was about four times the 10-year average. These increases were somewhat offset by Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, all of which had less area burned than their 10-year averages.
  • In Quebec, the area burned was less than 2% of its 10-year average.

In addition, forest fires resulted in 125 community evacuations in 2015, affecting approximately 15,000 people.

Infographic

Infographic: Forest Fires in Canada – 2015
Map of Canada showing the area burned in hectares in 2015 and the 10-year average for each province and territory and the national parks represented in bar graph.

Forest Fires in Canada – 2015

The 2015 fire season was marked by an early and intense start. By the end of June, 4,076 fires had consumed more than 1,352,383 hectares (ha) across the country – nearly a 60% hike in area burned compared to the 10-year average. Canadian firefighters across the nation, with the help of nearly 500 firefighters from the U.S., Australia, Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand, mobilized to fight the wildfires concentrated in western Canada. About 45% of the total forest area burned in 2015 was in Saskatchewan.

What is the outlook?

When and where significant fire activity occurs varies greatly from year to year. Analyses of fire trends are beginning to show an increase in both the annual variability of fire seasons and the length of the fire season. These emerging trends may in turn result in changes to the cost of fighting fires and more impacts on people, such as loss of houses and evacuations.

Forest area burned and number of forest fires in Canada, 2005–2015
Graph displaying the area burned in hectares and the number of forest fires for each year between 2005 and 2015.
Graph data
Table displays the area burned in hectares and the number of forest fires for each year between 2005 and 2015.
  Number of fires Area burned
(hectares)
2005 7,542 1,671,524
2006 9,820 2,250,815
2007 6,917 1,542,202
2008 6,278 1,712,056
2009 7,210 775,025
2010 7,291 3,052,473
2011 4,743 2,428,798
2012 7,956 2,003,270
2013 6,264 4,210,137
2014 5,152 4,563,327
2015 7,068 3,903,277
Sources
Note
  • Forest fires in Canada (infographic) – National parks fire data are not included in the provincial and territorial fire data.