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'We've never seen this before': Canada's unprecedented fire season adds pressure to crews

More than 400 wildfires are burning thousands of hectares of forest and land across Canada in an "unprecedented" start to wildfire season.

Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs says, in his career, he's never seen such an early and devastating start to the wildfires season marked by large fires in regions countrywide.

"We're seeing fires like we've never seen before, at an earlier stage in the month of May than we've ever seen," McMullen told CTV's Your Morning on Wednesday.

Volunteers comprise the majority of Canada’s firefighting capacity, putting aside their day jobs when they are called. McMullen estimates, of the 126,000 firefighters countrywide, between 80,000 and 90,000 are volunteers.

"It's unbelievable,” he said, suggesting most Canadians have no idea. "The volunteer system has been around for centuries, and it works most of the time. What it isn't designed for is for the long, sustained, drawn-out events similar to what we're seeing in the wildfires."

Given the current needs, and the expectation they will not be reduced in the future, McMullen says there needs to be more incentive for people to become volunteer firefighters.

"Right now our volunteers get a tax incentive of up to $3,000," he said. "I know we use the term volunteer, but the fact of the matter is there is some form of remuneration given to these volunteers in our communities and we've asked the government to increase that tax incentive from $3,000 to $10,000 annually."

On June 8, 2022, six fires were burning out of control , among active wildfires covering 30, 575 hectares.

The latest data available, according to records from the National Wildland Fire Situation Report, as of May 31, 2023, 45 fires were uncontrolled and 2.7 million hectares of land had been burned.

Given the extreme season, McMullen says fire crews are "absolutely exhausted."

"But they continue to do what they do every single day, which is to go out and give every effort that they possibly can to keep ourselves in our community safe," he said.

McMullen says training for more firefighters, including Indigenous fire crews, would also help.

"Indigenous communities just have a very different understanding of fire," he said. "They use it differently, they respect it differently, they've lived on the land for such a long time that they understand what the fire risk is in their city…They also protect their communities in a very different matter than us."


To watch the full interview click the video at the top of this article. Top Stories


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