About the Massive Wildfires Raging Across the Country

About the Massive Wildfires Raging Across the Country – Peggy Askin –

Wildfires continue to rage across Canada, with British Columbia and the Northwest Territories most affected at this time, while those in Quebec continue to burn and cause damage as well. The fires in the BC interior and Northwest Territories are the latest in an unprecedented fire season that has seen large fires in British Columbia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, with smoke blanketing not only large areas of Canada and the U.S., but as far away as Europe. The damage to communities, people’s lives, everything they own and their livelihoods, local economies, the forests and environment continues at a very high level. Close to 200,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and communities, many more than once, and hundreds have lost everything.

Fire is a natural part of the boreal forest ecosystem, but 21st century fires are different. Fueled by global warming and governments in the service of narrow private interests, they are burning hotter, spreading faster, and happening more frequently, devouring vast tracts of land.

As of August 20, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which maintains a live database of fire activity across the country, reported that there have been 5,832 fires in 2023, with 1,050 still active. Of these, 657 are rated “out of control,” of which 382 are in British Columbia, 160 are “held,” and 225 are “under control.” The fires have consumed 15 million hectares of forest, (150,000 square kilometers), an area more than twice the size of New Brunswick, and the fire season is expected to continue into the fall. That is double the previous record of 75,596 square kilometers burned in 1989.

Natural Resources Canada stated in 2020 that, “Fire plays a significant role in forest ecosystems. An average of 9,000 fires burn more than 2 million hectares each year in Canada. This is twice the average area burned in the early 1970s, and various modeling scenarios predict another doubling or more by the end of this century, because of warmer temperatures expected as a result of climate change. The growth in fire activity will have major implications for forest ecosystems, forestry activities, community protection and carbon budgets.”

Three years later, the area burned has surpassed this prediction for the end of the 21st century while government inaction continues, the conclusions and recommendations from previous fires like Fort McMurray and Slave Lake are largely ignored and sit on the shelf, and the conditions of firefighters deteriorate. The technology exists to protect communities but it is used by the big corporations to protect their facilities while the communities are left vulnerable and unprotected.

Firefighters are speaking out and demanding action regarding the dangerous and intolerable conditions under which they work. The valuable knowledge and practices of the Indigenous Peoples who have lived in the forests since time immemorial as to how to live with fire have been ignored and even criminalized. Communities are ignored by governments who continue their anti-social offensive, even cutting back firefighting services. They continue to serve the monopolies and oligopolies and their destructive practices which contribute to the increased ferocity of wildfires. All are speaking out. Above all, this wildfire season has shown that the need for the communities, firefighters and Indigenous Peoples and Métis to exercise decision-making power and control is immediate and the greatest problem to be solved.

BC, Nadina Lake fighting fire

Indigenous and Métis Communities

Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected while they are blocked from exercising decision making power over their traditional territories. They only make up five per cent of the population of Canada, but 42 per cent of all evacuation events and 50 per cent of evacuations due to smoke are in Indigenous communities, and they usually last much longer than in non-Indigenous communities.

Northwest Territories

More than 200 wildfires are raging in the Northwest Territories and 70 per cent of the territory’s 45,000 residents have been forced to evacuate, including from the capital Yellowknife, the cities of Hay River and Fort Smith, Yellowknife’s Dene communities of Ndilo and Dettah, the K’atl’odeeche and Jean Marie River First Nations and Kakisa, located in the Ka’a’gee Tu First Nation.

Those being evacuated by air are going to Calgary, while many others are making the long drive south to Edmonton and many other cities in Alberta where reception centres have been set up. The closest centres in Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie are already at capacity, and many are making the 14 hour drive to Edmonton. Others are camping in the provincial campgrounds.

A massive effort to save the city of Yellowknife is underway, with a network of fuel breaks established on the city’s west side, along with about 20 kilometres of hose and pipe feeding a network of sprinklers and water cannons. A 10 kilometre control line with fire retardant has been built through the bush.

Mike Westwick, NWT fire information officer, said at the daily news conference August 21 that the weather could push fire closer to Fort Smith as well as Hay River and there were tough days ahead. Fire suppression efforts have held in Yellowknife, but the situation remains very serious with the dry conditions and wind.

Previously, wildfires have also affected the communities of the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and Sambaa K’e as well as the people of Hay River who have now been evacuated for the second time. Many homes and structures were destroyed in the K’atl’odeeche First Nation, which is now again under evacuation.

British Columbia

Kookipi Creek wildlands fire near Boston Bar, BC

In British Columbia, around 35,000 people were under evacuation orders and a further 30,000 were under evacuation alerts as of August 19. The provincial government declared an emergency on August 18 and has restricted non-essential travel to BC’s southern interior to make more temporary accommodation available for evacuees and firefighters and keep roads clearer. The two major areas affected are the city of Kelowna and the Shuswap region. Five hundred firefighters are battling the fires, working shifts as long as 48 hours.

The McDougall Creek wildfire, which is about 10 kilometres from West Kelowna, is still burning out of control. As well, Shuswap is facing an unparalleled crisis, with visibility so poor that the fire has had to be fought from the ground only. Three fires have merged into the Adams Complex. Homes and other structures have been lost in both areas, with the extent of the destruction not yet known.

BC has faced serious wildfires all summer, which earlier in the season were mainly in the Prince George Wildfire Service area, the most serious being the Donnie Creek Wildfire. Currently the Takla Nation has issued an Evacuation Order for several communities. Some communities like Tumbler Creek have been able to return home while others remain on alert.

The Donnie Creek fire continues to rage in an area between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John. It is the largest wildfire in the 102-year history of BC’s fire service and had burned more than 15,000 square kilometers of boreal forest by the end of July. Extensive areas of BC are rated as at high or extreme risk of fire.

For updated map of fire danger click here 


Alberta has been severely affected, with about 1,000 fires since the beginning of the fire season and 81 active as of August 21. A provincial emergency in effect from May 6 to June 3 ended after heavy rains improved the situation. This year 1,754,656 hectares of forest have burned, twice the previous record set in 2019.

The Wood Buffalo Complex fire which straddles the border with the NWT is being jointly fought by crews from Alberta and the NWT. At present the fire is only four kilometres south of Fort Smith, and is 415,420 hectares in size. Another significant fire, the Basset Complex is out of control northwest of the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement.

Thousands of people have returned home after evacuation due to fires earlier in the season, and in most communities the fires were contained through the tremendous efforts of firefighters who managed to prevent damage to most homes.

The experience of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation on the shores of Lake Athabasca mirrors that of many Indigenous nations and Métis communities with tremendous social solidarity as the people look after one another. Fort Chipewyan is only accessible by boat or plane once the winter ice road melts.

When Fort Chip had to evacuate, people from the Cree and Métis nations from Fort McKay piloted convoys of boats to safety on the 300 kilometre trip from Fort Chip to Fort McKay, against the current, with smoke so thick they often could not see. “We’ve got them, we will catch them and we’ll make sure they’re taken care of,” Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis Nation said.

Earlier this summer, the 1,600 members of Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation, the East Prairie Métis Settlement of 300 people, and Little Red River Cree Nation with 3,700 members were forced to evacuate, with loss of homes, a bridge, water treatment plant and other essential infrastructure. Frankie Payou, a wildland firefighter with 14 years experience, was severely injured on May 14 after a tree fell on him. He was admitted to intensive care in a coma.

In most cases, people have had to make their own temporary living arrangements. The same generous spirit for offering help to those in need that existed during the Fort McMurray fire in 2016 has been seen from day one, as is the case right across Canada.

Meanwhile, governments refuse to uphold their social responsibilities to look after those affected by the wildfires and keep passing the buck to the municipal and community level. For example, the town of High Level has been asking successive provincial governments for a multi-use evacuation centre for years, Mayor Crystal McAteer said, but nothing has been approved. High Level has been used as an evacuation hub twelve times since 2003, but between hotels and cots in the town arena, the town can accommodate a maximum of around 1,600 people.


There are currently 67 active wildland fires in the Northeast and Northwest Regions. Of these, 12 are under control, two are being held, and 53 are being observed. Ontario has had an average year for wildfires, with 660 to date, close to the 10 year average of 620 wildfires annually.

“In late spring and early summer, Ontario experienced an escalation in fire activity following what was actually a slower than average start to the fire season,” Alison Bezubiak of Ontario’s Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services told CBC News on August 18. “But at that time, we were seeing warmer and drier conditions. Combined with heavy and widespread lightning, that contributed to an increased fire load.”

The wildland fire hazard values are now considered low to moderate across the Northeast Region today with the exception of one pocket with a high fire hazard, located north of Kapuskasing. The most serious fires earlier in the season were in regions around Cochrane, Chapleau and Sudbury, and in close proximity to the communities of Attawapiskat, Lac Seul, Cat Lake and Poplar Hill First Nations.

Earlier this summer close to 500 residents of Fort Albany were evacuated by plane, while others were rescued by the people of Kashechewan who came by boat to bring them to safety. Apitipi Anicinapek First Nation near Lake Abitibi, and Attawapiskat, west of Moose Factory were also affected.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia was hard hit early in the fire season with 20,000 people evacuated and over 200 homes destroyed. A fire near the town of Shelburne became the largest forest fire in the history of Nova Scotia. A smaller fire near Halifax was responsible for the evacuation of about 16,000 people.

In July, the province reported that all wildfires in Barrington Lake, Shelburne County and Tantallon and Hammonds Plains, Halifax Regional Municipality have now been extinguished. However, reported rainfall of up to 100 millimeters led to severe flooding across Nova Scotia which declared of a province-wide state of emergency from July 22 – 26.

(Originally published in Workers’ Forum)