As of July 22, hundreds of intense wildfires are burning in the United States, Canada, and Siberia with winds carrying the smoke from the fires thousands of miles and impacting the air quality of millions.
Drought conditions and intense heat waves are being blamed for sparking massive wildfires throughout western portions of the United States and Canada, as well as deep in the remote forests of Siberia.
Satellite observations and computer models conducted by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), a European agency, indicate that the fires in North America and Siberia “have been unusually severe this summer.”
Mark Parrington of CAMS told Axios, “in the more than 10 years that I’ve been monitoring wildfires in the boreal forests, I can’t recall a period where there was such widespread wildfire activity in both North America and Russia simultaneously.”
In the United States the Fire, Weather and Avalanche Center is tracking upwards of 358 active fires throughout the nation. 79 of the fires are considered to be large and have burned upwards of 1.5 million acres in several western states, especially in Montana and Idaho.
Satellite imagery shows smoke from the fires drifting from the western states southeast into the New York and tri-state areas, prompting the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to issue a rare air quality alert for the New York Metro area.
The National Interagency Fire Center has indicated on their website that of the 79 large fires burning across 13 states, only 3 are considered contained.
Year-to-date, the United States has had to contend with 35,975 fires, an increase of 6,325 fires from 2020. The fires this year have so far affected more than 2,680,000 acres of land in the United States.
The western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan are reporting extreme fire conditions as hundreds of fires continue to burn.
In British Columbia alone, approximately 300 wildfires are burning across the province, which has prompted the provincial government to declare a province-wide state of emergency. Authorities have ordered thousands of people to evacuate due to “fast-moving wildfires.”
“There are more than 40 evacuation orders affecting about 5,700 people or almost 2,900 properties in the province. There are also 69 evacuation alerts affecting just under 33,000 people and about 16,000 properties.” reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The state of emergency will remain in effect for 14 days but may be extended depending on the status of the fires.
The evacuation orders came on the heels of the destruction of 90 percent of the small community of Lytton, British Columbia after a raging wildfire. The area registered the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada at over 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the province of Saskatchewan, the five-year wildfire record fell after the province recorded a 222 five-year average of wildfires. According to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, there are currently 167 active fires, with 18 of them uncontained and growing.
In Alberta, Canada, dozens of wildfires are burning, but currently, all of them are designated as either “contained” or “being held.”
The North American Seasonal Fire Assessment and Outlook for 2021 states, “above normal significant fire potential will expand northward into the Great Basin and Rocky Mountain Geographic Areas through August with areas closer to the monsoon likely returning to near normal significant fire potential in July and August.”
It continues, “most of the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, and northern Great Basin are expected to have above normal significant fire potential in July and August with areas beginning to return to normal significant fire potential in September.”
Massive fires deep in the Siberian forests of the Yakutia region have prompted Russian authorities to dispatch their army in an attempt to contain the flames.
More than 2,600 firefighters are reportedly battling the widespread fires that have torn through over 800,000 hectares of land. Water-bombing planes have been tasked with reaching some of the more remote areas.
Like in North America, the fires are being blamed on intense heat waves that have plagued the northern hemisphere this summer.
Last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told The Guardian that “the fire risk has seriously flared up across practically the entire country because of the abnormal heatwave.”
Russia has been experiencing an intense heatwave that has shattered several temperature records in western Russia. Moscow recorded its hottest June day in over 120 years after the temperature reached 34.7 degrees Celsius (94.46 degrees Fahrenheit) in the northern capital.
The fires in Siberia have raised concerns about the permafrost and peatlands thawing in the region, which has the potential to release massive amounts of carbon stored in the frozen tundra.
Mark Parrington of CAMS told the Guardian, “We’re still piecing together the information to try and understand what it means for the climate. This year we haven’t yet seen so many fires within the Arctic Circle within that region, but just within the last three to four days we’ve started to see a number of hotspots occurring and a lot of smoke.”