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122 active wildfires burning across Canada, 32 considered 'out of control'

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City-sized blazes are bearing down on isolated communities across Western Canada as responders and residents alike brace for the worst.

The 2024 wildfire season has begun, and it's shaping up to follow last year's unprecedented destruction with thousands of square kilometres already consumed.

Here are the latest updates from across the front line:

How many fires are currently burning?

The latest reports from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) count 122 active wildfires across the country, down from 125 earlier in the day. At present, 77 of those fires are listed as under control, meaning further spread is prevented, with another 13 controlled enough to hold within predetermined boundaries and 32 spreading out of firefighter control.

Alberta and British Columbia's provincial agencies are currently fighting the most fires at 45 and 42, respectively, followed by nine in the Northwest Territories, eight in Saskatchewan, six in Manitoba, two in New Brunswick and one in Ontario. A further nine active fires are under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada.

Since the beginning of this year, 1,023 wildfires have collectively burned nearly 400,000 hectares (nearly 4,000 square kilometres) of Canadian land.

Where are the biggest wildfires right now?

Among the wildfires with recent status updates via the CIFFC, some of the largest are clustered in the northeast corner of British Columbia, in and around the community of Fort Nelson. Seven large wildfires ranging from 3,300 to more than 80,000 hectares are now burning out of control near the community. One, now 25 kilometres away, has grown in size from 464 square kilometres to 718 square kilometres in just 24 hours.

One such fire near Parker Lake, just a few kilometres west of the community, had spread rapidlyby Thursday, growing to nearly 13,000 hectares, up from 8,400, earlier in the week. Fort Nelson's mayor confirmed on Wednesday that there was structural damage outside the town amid evacuation orders affecting more than 4,000 residents. Video obtained by CTV News shows more than one home has been damaged or lost.

"The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality has issued an Evacuation Order for the town of Fort Nelson and area, and the Fort Nelson First Nation, due to wildfire," reads a provincial alert updated Sunday. "This wildfire is a threat to life & safety. Impacted residents must evacuate now."

In a spot of hope, weather forecasts for the coming days show a low-pressure system and light rain headed for the northern B.C. region, which is expected to dampen but not extinguish wildfire activity. Although the blazes threatening Fort Nelson span nearly 130 square kilometres, fire is currently spreading away from the town. The ground in the area is said to be tinder dry.

Meanwhile in Alberta, a nearly 20,000-hectare fire near Fort McMurray shrunk slightly on Thursday and is about six kilometres from city limits. It is the only wildfire burning out of control in the province.

Eight years on from the 2016 blazes that pushed 80,000 Fort McMurray-area residents out and burnt more than 2,000 homes, this year's fire has forced evacuation alerts across the region, with 6,600 residents vacated from their homes until next Tuesday, at the earliest.

Evacuees have complained about difficulties finding supplies and having to spend hundreds on accommodation.

Provincial officials told reporters Wednesday that the wildfire was expected to decelerate through the day, with winds able to push it back from the city, giving firefighters a crucial window to make progress toward containment.

As of a Wednesday update to the CIFFC's records, the Fort McMurray fire remains out of control. Government officials have instituted a fire ban, closed schools and established a reception centre in Edmonton, roughly 375 kilometres to the south.

Also among the most notable fires is further to the east, where a nearly 40,000-hectare fire is burning near Flin Flon, Man., on the central Saskatchewan border.

Nearby cottage subdivisions and the community of Cranberry Portage, Man., have been affected as evacuation orders bring hundreds out of the path of danger. Ontario will send 10 fire ranger crews to assist efforts in the province. A new small fire has also been detected northwest of Ottawa, but is currently considered under control.

A local emergency coordinator told CTV News Wednesday that though cooler temperatures the night before could prove helpful, the situation remains serious. The timing of a return home for displaced residents is an open question.

Further information about local fires may be found through their respective provincial wildfire services.

What is causing the fires?

CIFFC reports show that Wednesday brought 13 new wildfires across the country, but only two were determined to be naturally occurring. More than half of the new fires were found to have a human-linked cause.

More broadly, among the 1,042 fires currently listed in the centre's public database, 723 are designated human-caused, 54 natural and another 265 undetermined.

"Don't be that person this wildfire season," reads an Alberta government release this April.

Where there's fire, there's smoke

As fires rage in the north, winds are forecasted to carry smoke in a sprawling curve west from Manitoba to the Pacific coast on Thursday, drifting down past Vancouver Island and the U.S. border and even curling back east, past Calgary and across Alberta again.

 

Government health officials warn that wildfire smoke can fluctuate over time and across areas, and encourage residents in the path to monitor their local air quality index to protect from potential health risks. High ratings on the one-to-10 scale mean that avoiding strenuous outdoor activity is recommended.

Air quality can also be checked cross-country through Environment Canada's weather alert system.

With files from CTV News Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and National, and from The Canadian Press

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