Home » No fewer than 91 fires are raging here despite freezing temperatures and heavy snow, and that does not bode well for the summer

No fewer than 91 fires are raging here despite freezing temperatures and heavy snow, and that does not bode well for the summer

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© AP

Even during the peak of Canadian winter, last year’s embers are still evident. The so-called zombie fires continue to burn, even under a thick layer of snow. And so the question is: what awaits Canadians this summer?

Anyone driving through the city of Fort Nelsen in British Columbia can now see clouds of white smoke coming out of the ground. This is due to the zombie fires, also called wintering fires. They are flameless smoldering fires that burn slowly beneath the surface and are kept alive by the organic soil – called peat moss – common in that region. The thick layer of snow ensures that the fires are well insulated against the cold.

The fires are not uncommon. According to experts, an average of five or six fires have continued to burn during the cold winter months over the past ten years. But in January there was a spike in the province of as many as 106 of those zombie fires. Experts therefore wonder what this portends for the coming summer season.

Because most fires normally go out on their own before spring. But according to data from the province, 91 fires are still burning now and if they are not extinguished by March, they could flare up again as the snow melts and they are exposed to the air.

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Millions of hectares

The neighboring province of Alberta is also seeing a spike in these winter fires, with 57 fires as of early February – almost 10 times more than the five-year average. “I think it’s very alarming to see these fires continue to smolder throughout the winter, especially after Canada’s record wildfires last year,” said Jennifer Baltzer, professor of biology at Wilfrid Laurier University and Canada’s Research Chair in Forests and Global Change, to BBC.

More than 18 million hectares of land were burned by wildfires in Canada in 2023. That wildfire season was one of the deadliest in recent history, with several firefighters killed in the line of duty. Thousands of people were driven from their homes and the impact was felt far beyond Canada’s borders as smoke blanketed much of the US in June.

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“That disastrous wildfire season is one of the reasons why BC now has such a high number of zombie fires,” said Mike Flannigan, a professor and fire management expert at Thompson Rivers University in Kelowna. “Most of these fires could not be fully extinguished in the fall simply due to a lack of resources. Another reason is the extreme drought that the province has experienced in the past two years.”

Last summer, hectares of forest went up in flames. — © AFP


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