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Indicator: Forest fires

In 2018, there were more than 7,000 forest fires in Canada, burning almost 2.3 million ha of forest, with both of these numbers close to twenty-year averages. Though the national totals are close to average, in 2018, many fires occurred in places where large fires are unusual, including Vancouver Island, the Manitoba Interlake region, and Parry Sound, Ontario.

  • In British Columbia, a record 1.35 million ha burned, much of it in stands affected by the mountain pine beetle 8 to 12 years ago. Dead trees, both standing and fallen, dry after weeks with little rain, increased the fire intensity, making the fires more difficult to control.
  • 2018 was the second year in a row with record-setting fires in the BC interior, but these fires were generally further from populated areas. However, smoke darkened the sky and brought poor air quality to many towns and cities for much of August.
  • 2018 was also the second year in a row with challenging emergency evacuations for remote fly-in communities in eastern Manitoba. Significant fire-related evacuations also occurred in BC, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Every year, firefighting resources are shared among Canadian provinces and territories through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. In 2018, firefighters and equipment were sent to BC from all across the country to assist with fire management efforts. However, in-country resources were insufficient to meet demand for most of August. As a result, firefighters from Australia, Mexico and New Zealand were also deployed in British Columbia, along with personnel and equipment from the Canadian Armed Forces.

Forest area burned and number of forest fires in Canada, 2008–2018

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Graph summary

The annual area burned has been quite variable over time, with the greatest areas burned in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. The annual number of fires has also been quite variable over time, with the most number of fires occurring in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018.

Graph data
Table below displays the area burned in hectares and the number of forest fires for each year between 2008 and 2018.
Year Number of fires Area burned
(hectares)
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 1,416,034
2017 5,652 3,419,856
2018 7,067 2,272,274

Why is this indicator important?

  • Forest fires are a threat to homes and businesses (e.g. tourism, logging, mining) in forested areas, trigger evacuations and disrupt people's lives and livelihoods.
  • Forest fires produce large amounts of smoke, which affects human health and safety.
  • Over the last 10 years, an average of $1 billion has been spent annually on fire management.
  • Although wildfires threaten human values, fire plays an important and beneficial role in forest health, succession and nutrient cycling.

What is the outlook?

Forest fire occurrence varies greatly from year to year, both nationally and in any given area. However, there are factors that have caused fires to be more damaging and more difficult to control in recent years:

  • Developments across the land base and the wildland-urban interface are expanding.
  • There are more people living, working and visiting forested areas for recreation.
  • There is a buildup of highly flammable forest fuels from drought and insect-caused mortality, as a result of climate change and other factors.
  • Extreme weather events and shifting weather patterns associated with climate change increase the occurrence of drought and high winds – conditions ideal for fire spread.
Wide angle view of the 2018 Good Creek forest fire near Kelowna, British Columbia. The Goode Creek wildfire near Kelowna, British Columbia in 2018. Thousands of people are evacuated each year as a result of forest fires.

What reporting frameworks does this indicator support?

Sources and information
Photo credit
  • Good Creek Wildfire 1. Photo by Pinderphoto/iStock by Getty Images.

 

Table of contents — The State of Canada's Forests Report

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