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Echoes of Fort McMurray — Massive Wildfire Forces the Emptying of Another Canadian City

A little more than a year after a massive wildfire forced the full evacuation of Fort McMurray in Alberta, another set of extreme wildfires in British Columbia is again forcing major population centers to empty. In the region of Williams Lake and Cariboo City, 17,400 people have been forced to flee as a wildfire is threatening the major highway exiting the area. As the fire expands, another 27,000 in the broader province may also be asked to leave. This mass evacuation has been enough to empty large urban centers — turning them into ghost towns as fires rage through the surrounding countryside.

On Saturday, 40 mph winds, hot temperatures in the 90s (F), and lightning strikes fanned flames in the region — considerably worsening the fire situation and spurring more comprehensive evacuation orders. Heavy rains earlier in the year caused rapid vegetation growth. But as much warmer than normal temperatures accompanied by dry, windy conditions entered the region in June and July, the new growth has turned into tinder — adding a serious fire hazard.

(Scores of very large wildfires rage across British Columbia on July 15 — casting smoke plumes that now stretch across most of Canada. For reference, bottom edge of this image frame covers roughly 550 miles. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Presently, 160 wildfires are now burning across British Columbia. This number is down from more than 200 fires earlier in the week. However, many of the larger fires have grown in size. The result is that the province is still under a very severe alert level 4 with a mass mobilization of firefighting resources underway. On July 15, the fires were clearly visible in NASA satellite imagery (see above).

Precipitation extremes and increasingly warm temperatures are a hallmark signal of human caused climate change resulting from continued fossil fuel burning. And it is these kinds of conditions that have dominated British Columbia over recent months. Both the strong swing from wet to dry conditions accompanied by much warmer than normal summer temperatures is climate change related and has likely served to increase the fire danger throughout British Columbia this year.

Links:

Winds Fan Flames in Fire-Stricken British Columbia

Entire City of Williams Lake Evacuated as Fire Threatens Last Highway Out

NASA Worldview

Canadian Interagency Fire Center

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44 Comments

  1. Andy_in_SD

     /  July 16, 2017

    That is unfortunate to see, it is a beautiful area.

    Here is a shot of the Yukon area, it is looking quite bad.

    http://www.arctic.io/explorer/8/2017-07-15/9-N66.07119-W137.38583

    Reply
  2. Raul. M.

     /  July 16, 2017

    Anybody figured out how to install an a/c unit on a jacket. Now that there is the small thermo electric device, it seems that one could be fitted to a rain jacket with a fan blower to move the cool air around inside the jacket. Just saying.

    Reply
  3. climatehawk1

     /  July 16, 2017

    Tweeted.

    Reply
  4. Was just watching the highlights on t v . Thanks R S , Its hard for me to watch this ,I have driven around many of those areas , Trying not to think about what they look like now . Not to mention all the wildlife affected . .

    Reply
    • Tough stuff. I hope all are OK. At least there hasn’t been too much in the way of direct damage to homes or loss of life so far. Lets hope it stays that way.

      Reply
  5. Robert E Prue

     /  July 16, 2017

    Anyone noticed how hot and dry it is in the Dakotas? Wow!

    Reply
    • Central to N Central U.S. is going to really bake this week. Further north the Yamal Peninsula is going to challenge the upper 80s and lower 90s. That’s kind of a WTF for me. These are near 36 F above average readings for summer in Yamal.

      Reply
  6. Shawn Redmond

     /  July 16, 2017

    Flip flop:
    http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/16/us/arizona-flash-flood/index.html
    CNN)Seven people are dead and three others missing after flash flooding swept away a family at a swimming hole in central Arizona, police say.

    Fourteen family members were near the Cold Springs Swimming Hole on Saturday afternoon when heavy rains caused flash floods, Hornung said. Four family members were rescued Saturday afternoon, Sgt. David Hornung with the Gila County Sheriff’s Department.
    At least two of the dead were children, said Hornung.

    Reply
  7. SmarterThanYourAverageBear

     /  July 16, 2017

    My ex inlaws down in Ashcroft (215km or ~125mi) away from Williams Lake are on evacuation alert. The whole Cariboo region of the province as well as the Okanagan is on high alert. As of midnight last night there were51 wildfires larger than 0.01 hectares and all wildfires of note in Cariboo Fire Centre. http://bcfireinfo.for.gov.bc.ca/hprScripts/WildfireNews/Fires.asp?Mode=normal&AllFires=0&FC=7

    Reply
  8. wharf rat

     /  July 17, 2017

    Well, dammit, I’ve got one going about 40 miles south of me, on Highway 101, between Willits and Ukiah. I was down in Willits, and just before heading home, saw big smoke to the south. This was around 4 PM. We could see planes over it; there are 2 tankers at the Ukiah airport, probably 5 minutes away. Also, CDF has a station at the top of the grade, and I think that’s where the chopper is stationed.

    It was started at 3 PM by a vehicle fire on the highway, which spread to vegetation. At 9 PM, it was 1000 acres, 10% contained. Stay safe, Cal-fire

    http://www.willitsnews.com/general-news/20170716/grade-fire-on-ridgewood-grade-at-1000-acres-leads-to-evacuations-at-baker-creek-subdivision

    Reply
  9. Shawn Redmond

     /  July 17, 2017

    True to form no mention of CC by the CBC here.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-wildfire-williams-lake-1.4207548
    An estimated 36,600 people have been evacuated from their homes in B.C. as of Sunday afternoon, said Minister of Transportation Todd Stone, as wildfires continued to ravage the Interior.

    Up to date wild fire info at the following site.
    http://bcfireinfo.for.gov.bc.ca/hprScripts/WildfireNews/OneFire.asp

    Reply
  10. Shawn Redmond

     /  July 17, 2017

    This is OT but signs of warming non the less. A note worthy burst I should think. So long as the levels of methane in the atmosphere are maintained or rising then the forcing power it has should be based on decadal values not century values! Correct me if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, but if it were to be looked at this way would that not drive up the Co2e ppm? Makes Natalia Shakhova worries all the more notable.
    Abstract:
    A series of multibeam bathymetry surveys revealed the emergence of a large pockmark field in the southeastern North Sea. Covering an area of around 915 km2, up to 1,200 pockmarks per square kilometer have been identified. The time of emergence can be confined to 3 months in autumn 2015, suggesting a very dynamic genesis. The gas source and the trigger for the simultaneous outbreak remain speculative. Subseafloor structures and high methane concentrations of up to 30 μmol/l in sediment pore water samples suggest a source of shallow biogenic methane from the decomposition of postglacial deposits in a paleo river valley. Storm waves are suggested as the final trigger for the eruption of the gas. Due to the shallow water depths and energetic conditions at the presumed time of eruption, a large fraction of the released gas must have been emitted to the atmosphere. Conservative estimates amount to 5 kt of methane, equivalent to 67% of the annual release from the entire North Sea. These observations most probably describe a reoccurring phenomenon in shallow shelf seas, which may have been overlooked before because of the transient nature of shallow water bedforms and technology limitations of high resolution bathymetric mapping.
    http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-05536-1

    Reply
    • Robert in New Orleans

       /  July 17, 2017

      Please pass the antideppressants, this isn’t good at all.

      Reply
    • So the global annual methane emission is around 600 megatons. 5 kilotons is significant, but it’s not really enough to wag the overall global atmospheric levels even if it happens in a hundred places all at once.

      The study notes that the source of methane is biogenic and was due to river deposits of organic material on the sea bed over time. Methane pockets developed and were then disturbed by wave action.

      The study speculates that this is a cyclical occurrence. However, with less ice in the Arctic these days, there is more opportunity for wave action to disturb sea bed methane in shallow waters. I’d say there’s a decent amount of evidence here to be concerned about previously undisturbed pockets of methane in shallow seas like the ESAS. Of course, at this time, there is very little in the way of a decent quantitative estimate of the size of the methane store that may be vulnerable to this kind of forcing. We have estimates on the total size of the ESAS methane store, which also varies wildly. That said, it is likely that only a smaller portion of this store is vulnerable to wave action.

      In my view, this is still a bit disturbing and requires further and more thourough study.

      Reply
  11. Robert in New Orleans

     /  July 17, 2017

    World’s largest firefighting aircraft grounded by U.S. gov’t
    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/worlds-largest-firefighting-aircraft-grounded-by-u-s-govt/

    Reply
  12. Robert in New Orleans

     /  July 17, 2017

    Of course having the world’s largest firefighting airplane maybe meaningless if it can’t takeoff because of the heat.
    http://projectearth.us/soon-you-might-lose-your-seat-on-a-flight-to-extremely-1796842302

    Link to paper:
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-017-2018-9

    Reply
    • This is the kind of resource crunch you get when an over-sized portion of federal money goes to tax cuts for the rich, privatization, and paying too much for monopoly special interest services to the government and the public.

      Reply
  13. wili

     /  July 17, 2017

    http://tinyletter.com/sciencebyericholthaus/letters/today-in-weather-climate-final-thoughts-that-nymag-story-edition-monday-july-17th

    Eric Holthaus writes, in part:

    ” My advice for climate journalists going forward:

    1. Don’t hold back. Readers can take it. (As long as it’s rigorously grounded in the science, of course.)
    2. The weird shit that climate change could cause—the tail risks, the megastorms, the blinking out of entire ecosystems—is compelling.
    3. Climate journalists should find those stories—things scientists wouldn’t bother with b/c they’re unlikely—& report the hell out of them.
    4. AND THEN (this is the most important part) you plant the seed of possibility at the end & invite the reader to become part of the story.

    Because that’s the reality: We are all part of this story. This is our story, we are shaping it every day.”

    This sounds to me as though he is now mostly supporting the Wells-Wallace piece, but maybe I’m missing something?

    Reply
    • I think Holthaus has had a bit of a change of heart. He and Mann and others have been very busy doing good duty guarding the gates, as it were. And there’s good reason to do that because there’s a lot of nonsense out there. They probably unintentionally misread the Wallace-Wells situation a bit — rightfully keying off on some of the innacuracies, but then taking a bit too far while not holding fire long enough to get a good lay of the land. I think the point to take away from this is that we should make sure we have as many facts about a new, compelling, if somewhat apocalyptic climate news story before getting up in arms. To respond to stories of this nation, but not to emotionally react. To realize that situations like this are not cut and dry — requiring a measured, considered, calm response. Ironically, this will keep the fear reaction in check even as a helpful discussion of options and the various details RE the science ensues. All in all, I don’t think the situation turned out badly. It drew more attention to the science and more interest. It pulled more people into the discussion and because both the scientists and the journalists were willing to talk about the details of the science, people are probably better informed than they were before.

      We should also note that there’s a less scientific discussion ongoing now about the nature of fear. It’s true that psychology has made some statements and provided some studies about how people respond to fearful stories. These may be accurate, they may not be. My concern is that the studies downplaying the impact of dire climate stories are based on polling data which is often reliant on the accuracy of the questions asked. In addition, people may unintentionally answer polls untruthfully. My experience is that the most dire climate stories get to most attention — especially the ones that are based in facts or that accurately portray a real event as it happens while linking it to attribution based science. My most viewed article was a report on extreme North Pole warming in December of 2015 — which both described the event and discussed the climate change context. At nearly 500K views, it was insane that a small climate blog like this would develop this level of attention. NYMag reported on a number of issues that we’ve been covering here for some time — anoxic oceans, heat death due to 35 C wet bulb readings as the climate warms, uninhabitable zones expanding from the equator, the potential for hydrogen sulfide burps as the world’s oceans become more anoxic, the potential for methane burps, expanding disease vectors, and the potential for worsening conflict over dwindling resources. In my view, all of these are very real risks that we need to be aware of and I’m glad that larger media sources are starting to take note.

      A few days ago, I tweeted to Holthaus that the public will not be made aware of the true risks of climate change until the understand what the worst case entails. In other words, without that understanding, the public would not be fully informed. NYMag gave a glimpse of a very plausible worst case scenario by end Century. And it’s worth noting that the bits where they overstepped did not take away from the overall accuracy of the general warning. Further, NYMag did miss a number of other issues like ocean acidification, possible starts to loss of ozone and hydroxyl sinks in the longer term, the fact that NY City would be greatly reduced in size due to sea level rise, the risk of glacial outburst floods and very severe storms of a number of varieties and on and on. So caution as the watch-word when it comes to climate change is something we should all be vested in. As many have said here many times — the precautionary principle is something we should absolutely take to heart in this most dire of matters.

      Reply
  14. wili

     /  July 17, 2017

    More dust storms are on the way for the US: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-storms.html

    Reply
  15. Jeremy in Wales

     /  July 17, 2017

    Interesting little GIF showing how North America’s A/C unit is going down the pan. Old ice dissappearing down the Nares Straight between Ellemere Island and Greenland.
    http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2017/06/Old_Arctic_sea_ice_going_down_the_drain

    Reply
    • Parts of this region of last harbor for old ice appear to be well on their way to becoming seasonally ice free. The Nares and the CAA is the new Fram.

      Reply
  1. Echoes of Fort McMurray — Massive Wildfire Forces the Emptying of Another Canadian City — robertscribbler – Online

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