The fire, which has burned at least 325 square miles, forcing the evacuation of some 88,000 people, is so hot and so intense that’s it’s formed its own weather. The thundercloud produced by the blaze actually is creating its own lightning, and consequently spreading the fire’s rage, setting more trees alight.
True, there have been fires in Canada’s boreal forest for ages. But scientists and researchers say this fire looks a whole lot like climate change. And that should be alarming for all of us.
“This is an example of what we expect — and consistent with what we expect for climate change,” said Mike Flannigan, a professor of wild land fire at the University of Alberta who’s been studying climate change and wildfire for decades. “This fire is unprecedented,” he said, referring to its local impact.
It’s impossible for scientists to say global warming caused this specific fire, of course, but polluting the atmosphere is creating conditions that make such disasters more likely, bigger and costlier.
Hot, dry conditions helped created the perfect conditions for the fire near Fort McMurray. The remote town, which is the gateway to Canada’s oil sands region, a hotbed of fossil fuel extraction, saw a high temperature of 91 Fahrenheit . The previous record of 82 degrees was set in 1945, according to government climate data.
Fires only are expected to get bigger and costlier as humans keep pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, primarily by burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation. A 2011 report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, for example, says certain parts of the American West could see up to a 650% increase in the median area burned by wildfires each year if temperatures rise another 1 degree Celsius. Humans already have warmed the climate about 1 degree Celsius compared with temperatures before the industrial revolution.