Indicator: Forest fires

In 2017, Canada experienced 5,611 forest fires, with approximately 3.4 million hectares (ha) burned, well above the average annual area burned.

  • The 2017 fire season was the third in a row with above-average impacts on affected communities, including large numbers of evacuations, high property damage, poor air quality and costly fire-suppression efforts.
  • British Columbia had one of the worst fire years on record, with over 1.2 million ha burned and over $500 million in fire suppression costs.
  • In British Columbia, 65,000 people were evacuated from their homes because of fires. Significant fire-related evacuations also occurred in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The top priority of all fire management agencies is protection of human life, and evacuations are a key part of that protection. People are evacuated not only to avoid fatalities, but also to avoid the adverse health effects of smoke inhalation. During large fire events, such as those in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the federal government provides support to provincial and territorial fire authorities on request. This includes fire intelligence from Natural Resources Canada as well as other support from multiple federal departments and agencies and groups such as the Red Cross.

Forest area burned and number of forest fires in Canada, 2007–2017

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Graph data
Table displays the area burned in hectares and the number of forest fires for each year between 2007 and 2017.
Year Number of fires Area burned
(hectares)
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 5,203 1,416,053
2017 5,611 3,371,833

Why is this indicator important?

  • 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 result in costly economic and environmental losses and public health and safety concerns, directly threatening communities and infrastructure, or reducing visibility and air quality through smoke.
  • The increased frequency and severity of fires affects the cost of fire management and results in greater impacts on people and communities, such as evacuations and losses of homes and businesses.
  • Information on trends in the fire situation across the country helps researchers assess both the health of Canada’s forests and the effects of climate change.

What is the outlook?

  • When and where significant fire activity occurs varies greatly from year to year, but fire trend analysis indicates that fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.
  • The frequency and severity of forest fires in Canada is predicted to increase as climate change brings about warmer temperatures and less rainfall.

What reporting frameworks does this indicator support?

Sources and information