Discover more from Sustainability by numbers
Canadian wildfire update: it’s already a record year
The amount of area burned by the end of June already exceeds the total burn in record years.
At the time, we only had 2023 data up to 11th June. In that post, I said that how June played out would be the defining factor in whether 2023 was going to be a ‘record year’.
Well, the final June ‘results’ are in, so here’s a quick update of the charts.
Wildfire burn in May
First of all, Canada’s wildfire burn came in early and fierce this year.
2.7 million hectares had been burned by the end of May. In the chart, we have the end-of-May totals by year, since 1990. As you can see, it’s the biggest by far. The only year that comes close is 1995, with 1.6 million hectares.
Wildfire burn in June
Let’s then add on the amount burned in June. When I wrote my initial post on the 11th, 1.9 million hectares had burned.
With some back-of-the-envelope calculations, I estimated that this might be 5.2 million hectares by the end of the month.
I was reasonably close. The final total was 5.8 million hectares.
Stack that on top of the 2.7 million hectares burned by May, and we have a running total of 8.5 million hectares burned this year.
That makes it the largest burn in records since 1990. We only have monthly breakdowns from 1990 onwards, which is why this time series is so short. But as we’ll see later, it’s still a record year with longer-run annual data.
Wildfire burn from July onwards
Now, we obviously don’t know how much will be burned in the second half of this year, so we can’t do complete year-to-year comparisons.
But even when we add post-June burns for previous years, 2023 is still going to be a record year. This would be the case, even if zero hectares were burned from July to December.
See how it compares to previous years when we stack post-June burns on top.
The previous record year in 1995 hit 7.4 million hectares. 2023 has already burned more.
2023 will be a record wildfire year since records began in the 1960s
Let’s add this year, up to June, to compare.
As you can see, it’s already the highest year since consistent records began in the 1960s.
There are many contributors to large wildfire years: forest management and climate change, to name a few. In my previous post, I looked at long-term trends and potential causes of these wildfires in much more detail. I won’t repeat that discussion here.
Regardless of the cause, 2023 has been a very big year for Canadian wildfires and it’s not yet finished.
Thanks to get new posts in your inbox.
To do this I looked at historical data from various national data sources: the Canadian National Fire Database; the National Forestry Database; and the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.
Pre-1980s is not available for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. However, a tiny fraction of Canada's fires and area burned comes from these provinces, so I don't expect this to affect the conclusions or trends.