International firefighters face a challenging task as they help fight unprecedented wildfires in Canada. The leader of a French team deployed to Quebec, Eric Flores, described the situation as unlike anything seen before. While doing mop-up work to prevent explosions, they were surprised by a fire that broke out just 50 meters behind them in a wooded area.
Flores explained that the fire can burn underground through roots, which makes it unpredictable and prone to flare up quickly. Firefighters must advance meticulously, meter by meter, in their fight against the flames. After arriving by helicopter, they have to walk several kilometers to the affected areas.
They face dense and noxious smoke as well as a plague of black flies and mosquitoes. The size of the fires in Canada is much larger than what fire crews are used to dealing with in France. Active forest fires reach dizzying numbers, with nearly 500 fires, half of them out of control.
Due to the shortage of firefighters in Canada, even with international support, it is impossible to fight all the fires at the same time. Authorities are forced to let some fires burn in sparsely populated areas while trying to prevent their spread.
These unprecedented fires are a harbinger of the climate challenges Canada will face in the future. Its boreal forest, the largest in the world, uninterrupted by roads, cities, or industrial development, is increasingly threatened by fires. So far, approximately eight million hectares have been consumed by flames in Canada, from British Columbia to the Atlantic provinces.
The spread of these subway fires is due to the humus layer characteristic of the boreal forest. These fires emit large plumes of smoke that have affected visibility and air quality in Canada, the United States, and Europe.
Canadian wildfires require a special approach, as firefighters must dig to reach subway fires. The rapid spread of embers, which can travel several kilometers and ignite new fires, is staggering. In addition, the conifers present in the boreal forest burn easily due to the flammable oils in their resins.
These fires have devastating consequences for the climate, as the boreal forest releases 10 to 20 times more carbon per unit area burned compared to other ecosystems. Thus, they contribute to global warming by releasing greenhouse gases, creating a vicious circle.