British Columbia under fire: effects of climate change on the west coast

British Columbia under fire: effects of climate change on the west coast

Written by Lauren Stewart

Over the last decade or so, British Columbia has come to be known for being the only province with two seasons: rain and fire. 

While Canada’s westernmost province is most commonly identified by its stunning views, as climate change continues to rapidly worsen, B.C. is on track to have its beauty become past tense. 

Like clockwork, once the peak of the rainy season passes and the transition to summer begins British Columbians brace themselves for an unpredictable wildfire season. Since 2017, B.C. has broken records almost every year for the number of hectares lost in the blazes. 

Made with Visme

Map by Shaki Sutharsan

Though 2019 and 2020 were unexpectedly quiet years, 2021 saw a more than 5000 per cent jump in the number of hectares burned, with over 850,000 lost compared to the previous years’ 21,000 and 15,000 respectively. According to the B.C. Wildfire Season Summary, the 2021 season was more challenging in particular due to the severe heat wave that swept over the province, and limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a report from the Globe and Mail discussing the future of wildfires in Canada, it was revealed that even the modest predictive modelling shows the areas burned will double by the end of the century. The less conservative modelling is much more of a staggering reality check: 

“More aggressive modelling predicts it will increase by a factor of as much as 11,” it reads. 

Forestry loss aside, wildfires carry layered risks beyond the flames. The heat waves that often accompany severe wildfire seasons can be extremely harmful to sensitive groups. This past summer in British Columbia, record temperatures of above 40 C cost nearly 600 lives in the span of just six days. Not only this, but the smoke that comes with wildfires of such volume can pose a significant threat to health when exposed to it long-term. 

Canadian Red Cross via YouTube

How you can stay safe during wildfire season 

If you find yourself in an area being affected by a wildfire, the B.C. government has a number of resources on their website. It’s recommended to have a grab-and-go bag

containing necessities like first aid and non-perishable foods, as well as supplies for reducing exposure to wildfire smoke. If you’re in an area with a heavy smoke concentration it’s recommended to stay indoors and seal off windows and doors, as well as using an air filtration system. In a state of emergency, always abide by the regional orders for evacuation or other safety measures.

November 21, 2021

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