The Impossible Fight to Stop Canada’s Wildfires

On Monday morning, the fire on Staten Island had spread over an area of roughly 7,000 acres, multiplying its size by five. The fire was discovered on Saturday, May 13, and it was determined to be human-caused. Despite being in the midst of recruiting, training, and hiring for the wildfire service, the city of Fort Saint John in the northeast province of British Columbia had already received a crew of 18 individuals. Among this crew was Scott Rennick, a Canadian firefighter who was commanding one of the six incident management teams (IMTs) specialized in managing the province’s most complex fires. Rennick knew that this summer would be particularly challenging, with the expectation that it would be bad until 2023.

As Fort Saint John, the oil and gas hub of British Columbia with a population of 21,000, neared, the fire quickly extended over a distance of 9 miles in multiple directions within a few hours. The arrival of a cold front in the afternoon of Monday intensified the fire’s progression, with strong winds reaching speeds of 25 mph. Wind became the third factor contributing to the fire’s severity, alongside the scorching and arid conditions caused by the ongoing drought.

Exhausted, they rested. Alongside dozens of firefighters and heavy equipment operators, his crew fought for 18 straight hours to create wide firebreaks and catch flying embers. It moved and sounded like a freight train sucking up tens of thousands of pounds of oxygen, swallowing everything in its sight. Rennick says that the terrifying glory of a ferocious firestorm, fueled by powerful winds drawing flames into it, never ceases to amaze him even after 30 years on the job.

Rennick held up six fingers and added, “I’m hopefully wrong.” Later, someone asked him how many deployments he predicted for the typical summer season, and he relayed the weather report to the commander, acting as the weather crew. Western Canada was covered by a deep red blob, indicating warm temperatures and low precipitation. Rennick looked up the three-month forecast on his laptop and later posted it on the command incident ad hoc.

It is probable that he is already preparing for his sixth deployment, which will last for six weeks in the seventh wildfire season. The fires in Canada are becoming more frequent, lasting longer, and growing bigger. The Rennick’s crew, who have tackled 1,050 active wildfires in Canada, is returning home from their fifth deployment this week.

The intensity and frequency of this summer has surpassed anything Rennick could have imagined. Watching a grassfire engulf the town of Lytton in just 23 minutes during an unprecedented heat wave was astonishing. Rennick compares the situation to trying to stop a tsunami or hurricane with your bare hands. Unfortunately, the fires are still raging. The wildfires in the Okanagan region have reportedly destroyed around 200 buildings. Currently, a province-wide state of emergency is in effect in British Columbia. Rennick, who has been fighting fires for most of his life and grew up in the city of Vernon, emphasizes that this is a clear indication of the changing environment and urges skeptics of climate change to talk to him.