“There will be intermittent bursts of fire activity,” said Robert Gray, a Canadian wildfire ecologist based in Chilliwack, British Columbia. «We can expect the US to see more smoke in the coming months.»
He said little can stop the wildfires burning in Canada’s northern boreal forests.
“It’s all flat. At this time of year, you have 22, 23 hours of daylight and wind. And they’re just giant wind-driven fires, and they’re burning over lakes and around lakes,” Gray said. «There’s not a lot of things there to slow them down, which is why they grow so big.»
He said he often answers questions from people in the US about why firefighters can’t just put out fires.
Some of the biggest fires are burning in areas without roads, Gray said. Fires can advance 5 to 10 miles in a day. With so many massive fires burning in close proximity, it is not safe to put firefighters in the flames.
“Just go put out the fires, it doesn’t work that way,” he said. «Welcome to climate change.»
Wildfire season in the US could start in earnest this month and produce some local smoke, too. The latest forecast from the National Interagency Fire Center shows «above normal» fire potential in the US Pacific Northwest and upper Midwest through the end of summer.
“It could be a season starting this year from April through September, and that’s unheard of for us,” said Keith Murphy, a fire management specialist with the Michigan State Department of Natural Resources. «I was in fires in May that seemed like the dog days of August.»
He said the effects of smoke from the Canadian wildfires forced his agency to stop conducting prescribed burns, a practice in which fires are intentionally started during periods of safe weather to better prepare the landscape for milder wildfires.
“It has been very hard here in the Upper Peninsula. It is affecting the elderly, children, some asthmatics. His lungs are getting irritated, his eyes are getting irritated, he was that thick,» Murphy said. “We haven’t even considered doing prescribed burns because of smoke concerns in Canada. People are probably fed up enough with all the smoke that we don’t want to add to that.»