Canada wildfire fight turns corner after rain
OTTAWA, May 23, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - A weeks-long battle against wildfires in western Canada finally reached a "turning point" on Monday with scattered rains reported over hotspots and more precipitation to come, officials said.
The wildfires in Alberta province have displaced tens of thousands of people and scorched more than 945,000 hectares.
"We have received rain, I understand, on almost every wildfire that's currently burning in the province except those in the far north," Christie Tucker of the Alberta Wildfire agency told a briefing.
"This could be a turning point for the firefighters working out there on the fires," she said. "It will offer them a chance to make real progress on controlling these fires."
The precipitation started Sunday and was forecast to continue.
"It is not the sustained soaking rain we so desperately need," said Bre Hutchinson, head of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
But it has helped reduce to 77 the number of fires still burning, from a recent high of 110.
And Tucker said saturated vegetation would make the region's forests and grasslands "more resilient in the weeks to come."
In recent years, western Canada has been hit repeatedly by extreme weather, the intensity and frequency of which have increased due to global warming.
This has brought floods and mudslides, forest fires that destroyed an entire town, and record-high summer temperatures that killed more than 500 people in 2021.
This spring's mostly hot, dry weather has resulted in what Alberta leader Danielle Smith described as an "unprecedented" crisis.
The province has been under a state of emergency over the past two weeks.
Almost 11,000 residents remained under evacuation orders as of Monday, down from almost 30,000. Officials said improving wildfire and smoke conditions could see more heading back home soon.