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Massive Canadian fires linked with beetles, climate change

Pine beetles adapting to new habitat

A NASA satellite image shows smoke plumes from the massive wildfires in Alberta.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Wildfires in Canada have burned 909 percent more than the average number of acres this year, mainly due to a number of blazes in northern Alberta that have been described as “freakish firestorms” by forestry officials.

Some scientists in Canada are conjecturing that the unusually large fires are linked with global warming and the pine beetle infestation that has spread through millions of acres of boreal forests.

According to the Canadian Forest Service‘s latest wildfire update, about 490,000 acres have burned, with 980 fires burning this week, well above the average number. More than half the fire burning are in Alberta; in most other parts of Canada the fire activity is described as light.
Fire danger remains low in British Columbia due to moist conditions, but is rated as high across big parts of Alberta, where a province-wide fire ban is in effect. With little precipitation in the forecast, the fire danger is expected to increase in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The Alberta fires have shut in billions of dollars worth of oil and gas facilities and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 oil workers from Fort MacMurray to Peace River, according to Thetyee.ca. High winds drove one fire though the community of Slave Lake, north of Edmonton, destroying nearly a third of the town.

Meanwhile, Canadian government scientists are going on record as saying the fires are consistent with expected climate change impacts. According to records from Natural Resources Canada, temperatures in the country’s northern forests have climbed two to three degrees in the past three decades, mainly due to warmer winters and springs. The acreage burned by wildfires has doubled since the 1970s and could double again by the end of the century. Some models predict that fires in Alaska, the Yukon and B.C. could increase fivefold in the next few decades.

Canadian scientists have also reported that mountain pine beetles have successfully colonized stands of jack pine, previously considered to be unsuitable habitat for the insects.

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