Indicator: Forest fires

In 2016, Canada experienced 5,243 forest fires, with approximately 1.4 million hectares (ha) burned, well below the average for both the number of fires and area burned.

  • On average, since 1990, Canada has about 7,500 fires a year, burning 2.4 million ha. In 2015, however, Canada had 7,140 fires that burned 3.9 million ha, the third year in a row of aboveaverage area burned.
  • Last year’s shift from an El Niño to a La Niña state in the Pacific Ocean brought rain and cool weather for western Canada, which led to an early end to the fire season.
  • Extremely large fires with severe consequences – such as the fire that burned in Fort McMurray, Alberta, in 2016 – can happen in Canada even in years when fire occurrence is below average for the nation.

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. However, they may also be harmful and can threaten communities directly or with smoke, resulting in public health and safety concerns and costly economic and environmental losses.

Forest area burned and number of forest fires in Canada, 2006–2016
Graph displaying the area burned in hectares and the number of forest fires for each year between 2006 and 2016.
Graph data
Table displays the area burned in hectares and the number of forest fires for each year between 2006 and 2016.
  Number of fires Area burned
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 5,158 4,563,327
2015 7,140 3,861,647
2016 5,243 1,404,655

Why is this indicator important?

  • When and where significant fire activity occurs can vary greatly from year to year, though fire trend analysis indicates that fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.
  • Information on trends in the fire situation across the country helps researchers assess both the health of Canada’s forests and the effects of the changing climate on them.

What is the outlook?

  • The frequency and severity of forest fires in Canada will likely increase as climate change brings about warmer temperatures and less rainfall.
  • The increased frequency and severity of fires may affect the cost of fire management and result in greater impacts on people and communities, such as evacuations and loss of homes.