Are arsonists to be blamed for the recent Canadian wildfires?

The recent wildfires (or forest fires) in Canada, deemed the worst-ever in recorded history, have been at the forefront of global news due to their severity and impact on people, wildlife as well as businesses.

In the wake of news about the worsening forest fires in Canada, we came across this post on Twitter sharing an article that implies that the wildfires across Canada were caused by arsonists and not by climate change.

The article states that despite several arsonists being arrested in recent weeks for causing wildfires in Canada, mainstream media has continued to attribute these forest fires to climate change. It also cites statistics obtained from the Canadian National Fire Database, showing an overall decrease in wildfires since 1989 as evidence that climate change has no impact on forest fires.

The article was published by LifeSiteNews, an online news service that markets itself as providing an alternate viewpoint to mainstream news that supposedly produces highly biased reporting on “issues of life, family, and many related issues”.


Cause of forest fires in Canada

Canada is prone to wildfires in its forested and grassland areas from the months of May to September. Approximately 50% of forest fires across Canada annually are caused by lightning. The remainder is caused by human activities which are usually accidental and does not only refer to arson. Such human activities include motor vehicle accidents or failing to extinguish campfires completely.

In addition, controlled forest fires are a rather common practice in many parts of Canada, and are considered essential to preserve the health and diversity of the forests.


Canada’s unprecedented wildfire season

While the number of forest fires may have decreased over the years, the average magnitude of the fire has increased over the years. This results in more intense fires which grow rapidly and release more smoke.

Further, this year’s forest fires have been deemed unprecedented as they began earlier, in late April, and have already destroyed areas amounting to almost 48,000 square kilometers. In comparison, the yearly average area burned over the past 10 years is approximately  28,000 square kilometers.

As a result of the fires, air quality in the region has deteriorated substantially, and people have been forced to evacuate their homes.


Arsonists and “ecoterrorists”

While some reports point to climate change as the reason for Canada’s unprecedented forest fires, particularly in Western Canada, others claim that the forest fires have been the work of arsonists.

While LifeSiteNews has cited instances of arrests of arsonists, not all pertain to the recent forest fires, and some were about fires set to buildings and residential areas.

The recent forest fires in Canada have also sparked rumours of being the work of “ecoterrorists”. Climate activists, who have been dubbed green terrorists or “ecoterrorists” due to resorting to violence at times to further their environmental aims, have supposedly been setting fires on purpose to bring more awareness to the cause of climate change.


The cause of Canadian wildfires

While some forest fires have been linked to arsonists, there is insufficient evidence that a majority or all of the recent forest fires in Canada were due to arson. For instance, on 1 June 2023, lightning ignited around 200 fires in Quebec, which is situated in Eastern Canada.

According to Yan Boulanger, a researcher from Natural Resources Canada (NRC), “partially because of climate change, we’re seeing trends toward increasing burned area throughout Canada.” Moreover, Lynn Johnston, a forest fire research specialist with NRC, highlighted that the number of lightning strikes seems to be increasing and could continue increasing with climate change.

As investigations are still ongoing, the precise reason for the more widespread forest fires in Canada, which have begun earlier than usual, is presently still unknown. However, the hotter and drier conditions due to climate change have been linked as a catalyst to the rampant spread of forest fires.

As there is insufficient evidence that arsonists and/or “ecoterrorists” are behind all, if not most, of the forest fires presently occurring in Canada, it is likely false that the forest fires were caused by arsonists.

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