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Alberta Wildfires: What's Going On?

Alberta Wildfires: What's Going On?

Alberta is facing a flurry of wildfires this summer, and no one is sure exactly what’s causing them.

According to the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard, the province has battled more than 600 active wildfires since the start of 2023.

At the time of this writing, firefighters are facing 5 out-of-control wildfires in the Edson Forest Area (causing an evacuation order in the Town of Edson), 3 out-of-control wildfires in Fort McMurray, and 6 in the Grande Prairie Forest Area.

In this article, we explore the causes and effects of these wildfires, delve into the Fort McMurray disaster, and take a broader look at wildfires in the Canadian context and worldwide. Our objective? To understand these events and underline the importance of proactive wildfire prevention and control measures.

Ready? Let's go.

Alberta Wildfire Cause: What (Or Who) Did It?

There's a lot of misinformation about Alberta's wildfire causes, and fire officials have not yet confirmed a cause due to ongoing investigations.

That said, here is what we do know. According to the Insurance Information Institute and the US Department of Interior, less than 10% of US wildfires result from natural causes like lightning or lava, while human negligence or arson cause most wildfires.

Most common wildfire causes:

  • Unattended campfires
  • Discarded cigarettes or cigars
  • Careless disposal of hot ashes
  • Embers from fireplaces, wood stoves, etc.
  • Illegal fireworks
  • Target shooting with incendiary ammunition
  • Negligent use of equipment like welding tools and chainsaws

There are less apparent causes too. For example, a car parked on dry grass in a national forest once sparked a massive wildfire in California, and misuse of a power tool led to a destructive fire in Santa Barbara in 2009.

We can’t point fingers at any one person or group, but it is important to recognize the role of human activity in contributing to wildfires. That's why it's so important to practice fire safety when living, working, or recreating in a wildfire-prone area like Alberta.

What Caused the Alberta Wildfire in 2016?

The 2016 Alberta wildfire, in particular, stands as a stark reminder of the interaction between climate, ecology, and human actions. While the official cause of the fire has not been determined, it is suspected to be human-caused.

It began southwest of Fort McMurray on May 1, and it resulted in the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta's history with around 88,000 people being forced to leave their homes. It destroyed roughly 2,400 homes and buildings and displaced an additional 2,000 residents. The fire spread over about 590,000 hectares before being declared under control on July 5, 2016, and was fully extinguished on August 2, 2017.

The fire conditions were exacerbated by an unusually hot, dry air mass over Northern Alberta, leading to record temperatures and low humidity and no rain. A natural El Niño cycle that resulted in a dry fall and winter, and a warm spring, along with the quick melting of a scant snowpack, contributed to the fire's rapid growth.

Climate change was cited as a potential contributor to the start and spread of the fire, with many noting that it is part of a general trend of more intense wildfires. However, it is important to note that individual fires cannot specifically be linked to climate change.


What Caused the Wildfires in Alberta?

The exact cause of the Alberta wildfires has not been definitively determined, but it is suspected to have been caused by human activities. Conditions were worsened by an unusually hot, dry air mass over Northern Alberta, leading to record temperatures and low humidity.

How Long Did the 2016 Alberta Wildfire Last?

The 2016 Alberta wildfire began on May 1, 2016, and was declared under control on July 5, 2016. However, it continued to smoulder and wasn't fully extinguished until August 2, 2017. So, in total, the 2016 Alberta wildfire lasted almost 15 months.

What was the Effect of the Alberta Wildfire?

The Alberta wildfire had a significant effect. Approximately 88,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and about 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed. It is estimated to be the costliest disaster in Canadian history, with damages costing around C$9.9 billion.

What Happened During the Fort McMurray Wildfire?

The Fort McMurray wildfire began southwest of the city on May 1, 2016. By May 3, the fire had spread to the city, leading to a massive evacuation of residents. The fire ravaged homes and buildings, rendering them uninhabitable and causing widespread damage and displacement.

What was the Largest Wildfire in Canadian History?

The largest wildfire in Canadian history was the 2016 Alberta wildfire, also known as the Fort McMurray wildfire. It spread over about 590,000 hectares and is estimated to be the costliest disaster in Canadian history.

What was the Largest Forest Fire in Alberta's History?

The largest forest fire in Alberta's history is, you guessed it, the 2016 Alberta wildfire, which swept through Fort McMurray and spread across approximately 590,000 hectares of land.

What were the Top Three Leading Causes of Fatal Home Fires in Alberta from 2001 to 2005?

The top three leading causes of fatal home fires in Alberta from 2001 to 2005 were related to cooking (20%), smoking (11%), and arson or vandalism (11%), respectively.

How are Wildfires Caused in Canada?

Wildfires in Canada can be caused by both natural and human factors. Natural causes include lightning strikes, while human causes can include discarded cigarettes, unattended campfires, and intentional acts of arson. Conditions like dry weather, high temperatures, and strong winds can exacerbate these fires.

What Started the Fires in Canada in 2023?

The exact cause of the fires in Canada in 2023 has yet to be determined. However, it is suspected that human activities may have played a role, such as arson or careless disposal of hot ashes. Climate change could also be a contributing factor, as record temperatures and dry conditions were present when the fires started.

What was the Worst Wildfire in the World?

The worst wildfire recorded occurred in Russia's Siberian Taiga forests in 2003, burning over 55 million acres during an unusually hot summer. This catastrophic event, fueled by dry conditions and human activity, affected areas as far as northern China and Mongolia, with smoke reaching Kyoto. The fire's significant emissions still impact ozone depletion studies today.

What Wildfire Killed the Most?

The Peshtigo Fire, which ignited on October 8, 1871, in Wisconsin, consumed approximately 1.2 million acres and tragically resulted in at least 1,152 fatalities. This fire holds the grim distinction of being the deadliest in U.S. history. Ironically, it occurred simultaneously with the infamous Great Chicago Fire, causing it to be largely overlooked.

When was the Worst Wildfire in History?

The Cloquet Fire in Minnesota, USA, stands as the worst wildfire in recent human history. Sparked by railroad activities in October 1918, it tragically led to around 1,000 casualties.

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