Canada's wildfire season begins with a major fire in British Columbia


After a year of intense wildfire activity in 2023, which burned around 18 million hectares of land in Canada and emitted an estimated 480 million tonnes of carbon, the country's wildfire season has begun in 2024, with significant wildfire activity detected in British Columbia in early May. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS*) has been monitoring the situation. Let's take a closer look.

Canada's first major wildfire of 2024 was discovered in northern British Columbia on May 9, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people as the wildfire advanced toward the community of Fort Nelson in northeastern British Columbia. Many of the fires are believed to have been caused by the resurgence of residual surface fires in the region.

GFASv1.2 fire locations and fire radiation output over North America for May 2024. Source: CAMS.

“Following the devastating wildfires that burned across Canada in 2023, the scale and intensity of the current fires in British Columbia so early in the season are extremely concerning. The extent of the ongoing fires and their impact on local communities and the atmosphere, underline the urgent need for continued monitoring and assessment,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at CAMS.

Total Fire Radiation Power (FRP) analysis, which CAMS uses to estimate emissions associated with burning vegetation, for the period in question shows a significant increase for Canada and BC in May. Daily FRP totals for the entire country began rising well above the 21-year average on May 9 and remained high for several days.

According to CAMS estimates, carbon emissions from wildfires in Canada are relatively high in early May, with the other highest May emissions to date coming from the devastating wildfires of 2023 and 2019. Total estimated carbon emissions from wildfires from May 1 to 15 are about 15 megatons, of which the BC fires account for over 12 megatons (see below).

Total daily radiant output from fires since May 1 comparing 2024 (in red) to the 2003-2023 average (in gray) (top row) and total estimated carbon emissions from wildfires in May (through May 15 for 2024) (bottom row) for Canada (left). ) and British Columbia (right). Source: CAMS.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service is currently listing a number of out-of-control wildfires across the province. CAMS will continue to monitor the wildfires in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada and will update this article as the situation develops.

CAMS regularly provides up-to-date information on the location, intensity and estimated emissions of wildfires around the world and tracks smoke transport and composition. To learn more about CAMS wildfire and smoke monitoring, visit our global fire monitoring page.

*CAMS is implemented by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Commission