An aerial view of the Birch Creek Fire complex, 2014. Credit: NWTFire/Facebook, located on:

An aerial view of the Birch Creek Fire complex, 2014. Credit: NWTFire/Facebook, located on:

Understanding Climate Change: Increased Fire Risk

This is the first of a series we will be doing on climate change and how it is, and will continue to impact the NWT, wildlife, habitat, people, and Canada as a whole. We hope to share educational information, science, Traditional Knowledge, and a better understanding of the ways that we can work together to combat climate change.

Recently, fires have been in the news both in the NWT and in other parts of the country, particularly in British Columbia. The west coast of not only Canada, but the U.S. as well, experienced a phenomenon called a ‘heat dome’, which means that a weather pattern remains stationary, and constant in one place rather than moving through as is usual. This heat dome meant that temperatures soared into the 30s and 40s and stayed there for nearly a week. This also had a major impact on sea life. Up and down the west coast, thousands of mussels, fish, and other marine animals were found dead on beaches due to the extreme heat. This extreme heat is becoming more common, and more dangerous, even deadly.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in Lytton, BC, where the temperatures went from 46.6 degrees Celsius on Sunday, June 27, 47.5 C on Monday, 49.5 C on Tuesday, and by Wednesday, June 30, the town was destroyed by a fire moving so quickly that people did not have time to gather anything but themselves.

Each year the fire season is starting earlier, lasting longer, and has a greater economic and human cost. What does this mean for the NWT? As of July 26, there were 66 active wildfires burning in the territory, and while that is not abnormal for this time of year, it will only be a matter of time before another fire season like 2014 happens here again, or worse. As temperatures rise, conditions change, leaving the habitat vulnerable to extreme conditions such as lightning or human caused fires, and the like. And while many people associate climate change with the term “Global Warming”, this can be very misleading. While temperatures are continuing to rise globally, what this really means is a change in the climate – hence climate change/crisis. Weather has and will become more extreme, change in ways it has not before, and problems such as flooding, landslides, tornados, drought, fires, among others will become more common. Many argue that because we still have long spells of deep cold in the -40s and -50s in the NWT, that climate change can’t be real. However, this is not accurate. We will dig into the changes in the north as we move through the series to have a fuller discussion of this very complex issue.

Look to our next post on how the NWT is warming at a rate 3% faster than most of the world and what those temperature changes mean for us. For more information on climate change and the current fire situation both in BC and the NWT, click the links below.