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Fort McMurray and Climate Change

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fort-mcmurray-fire-may-3-2016-courtesy-mary-sexsmith-org1

Unfortunately, the terrible fires at Fort McMurray are a foretaste of the feast to come, not only in Canada, but in the United States and no doubt in Russia and Scandinavia as well.

Those unusual weather conditions have been widely attributed to El Nino, a naturally-occurring phenomenon linked to warm ocean water that disrupts the weather.

But Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire from the University of Alberta, and many other climate change scientists agree that while the Fort McMurray fires cannot be directly linked to the carbon pollution produced by humans, Canadian wildfire activity of the past few years is well above average. And it’s connected to the warming climate.

In terms of the total areas destroyed by fires, there’s an unmistakable escalation, they say.

They see these fires as vivid markers of dangers to come for the forests and for the people and wildlife that live in them and around them.

As temperatures warm, they say, the likelihood is greater that more out of control infernos will consume more trees and human infrastructure.

“Climate change is here,” Flannigan says. “And we’re seeing more fires and arguably more intense fires because of it. Our area burned in Canada has doubled since the seventies. I, and others, say that this increase in area burned is related to temperature, which is related to human caused climate change.”

The data is just frightening:

The numbers and facts show how rising temperatures are providing a dangerous cocktail of flammable ingredients. One study, quoted in the assessment, found that snow packs were melting one to four weeks earlier than they did 50 years ago in the United States. The U.S. wildfire season is also 78 days longer than it used to be.

And when a wildfire strikes in the U.S., it lasts an average of 37 days, up from 7.5 days, the government’s assessment said.

​All in all, the frequency of large fire years and the area burned in the North American boreal region has more than doubled since the 1960s, with most of the activity occurring in the western part of the boreal forest.

The Fort McMurray wildfires are consistent with the trend, most climate scientists say.

Climate change doubters question whether there is any real pattern of connection since there have been some annual fluctuations in the amount of area burned. But statistics from the last three years suggest an alarming pattern.

About four million hectares of land have been affected by forest fires in Canada for the last three years. This is well above the average of about two million hectares over the past decade. It’s even larger than the average from the 1960s when about one million hectares of forest were burned every year in Canada from wildfires.

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