Canada’s record-breaking wildfire season has now seen 100,000 square kilometres of land scorched as blazes continue to burn out of control across the entire country.
The total area burned is roughly the size of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Lake Michigan combined.
“There are some very, very large fires still burning and a number of them are out of control so that number is going to continue to rise,” Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in an interview Thursday of the vast amount of land that’s burned.
Canada surpassed the record set in 1989 for total area burned in one season on June 27 when the figure totalled 76,000 square kilometres, and communities have faced evacuation orders, heat warnings and poor air quality for months.
The majority of blazes are now in Western Canada, and British Columbia has the greatest number, with more than 370 of the country’s 878 active fires, Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre data shows.
More than half of those fires were burning out of control as of Sunday afternoon.
The Northwest Territories reported Sunday that a firefighter died from an injury sustained while battling a fire near his home community of Fort Liard the day before. No other information will be released until his family has been notified.
He was the second firefighter to die in under a week, after 19-year-old Devyn Gale was killed by a falling tree Thursday near Revelstoke, B.C.
Based on forecasted conditions, Natural Resources Canada expects the wildfire season will continue to be unusually intense throughout July and into August.
As of Saturday’s national fire situation report, Quebec has seen the largest area of scorched earth this season, with 43,145 square kilometres burned — an area slightly larger than Vancouver Island and slightly smaller than Nova Scotia.
The good news, Blair said, is that conditions are expected to improve significantly in Eastern Canada if the seven-day weather forecast holds true.
“The situation is far less dire than it had been even a week and a half ago,” the minister said, though he acknowledged that very serious out-of-control fires continue to burn on the East Coast, and in Ontario and Quebec.
The government has yet to tally the costs associated with the wildfires, but Blair said they are expected to be considerable given how far the fires have spread, and how long and intensely they’ve been burning.
The other silver lining is that, so far, flames haven’t compromised critical infrastructure in communities the way they did in Fort McMurray in 2016, when fire destroyed thousands of homes and buildings, he said.
“We have not seen that type of damage as a result of these fires,” he said.