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Canadian wildfire maps show where 2023's fires continue to burn across Quebec, Ontario and other provinces

Climate change is making wildfires more severe
Climate change is making forest fires more severe 24:24

Canada is experiencing its most destructive wildfire season on record, as hundreds of blazes burning from coast to coast continue to send tremendous plumes of smoke into the atmosphere — and over the U.S.

A map updated daily by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre shows how widespread the 2023 wildfires have become. Eastern provinces like Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia have been hit particularly hard this year by large and at times uncontrollable blazes.

Officials on Wednesday reported 374 active fires in British Columbia, along Canada's west coast. To the east, Alberta had the second-highest number of active blazes with 126 while Quebec, which borders New England, had 106.

A map from Natural Resources Canada shows the fire danger index for the country for July 19, 2023.
Natural Resources Canada

Wildfire season typically happens around this time of year in Canada, which is home to about 9% of the world's forests. But with the season occurring annually from May until October, devastation seen from the outset this year put the country almost immediately on track for its worst season in more than 30 years.

The broad extent of the fires — from the westernmost provinces to the eastern ones — is unusual, particularly so early in the year, Canadian government officials have said. Political leaders, including President Biden, and environmental experts have pointed to the causal link between rising temperatures driven by climate change, as well as drought, and the extreme wildfire season that Canada is experiencing now. Plus, as CBS News previously reported, harsh weather conditions in Canada are fueling the fires and making it harder for firefighters to combat the flames.

As of its most recent update, the interagency fire center has recorded 4,241 wildfires since the beginning of 2023. The fires have scorched at least 11 million hectares — or over 27.1 million acres — of land across Canada this year. In June, the acreage burned this year surpassed the amount of land burned in 1989, which previously held Canada's annual record, the country's National Forestry Database reported.

A map from Natural Resources Canada shows the fire weather index for the country for July 19, 2023.
Natural Resources Canada

There were 885 active fires burning in Canada on Wednesday, according to the latest interagency tally. The agency's overall tally fell from 906 active fires reported on Tuesday, following an increase from the 881 active blazes reported the day before.

Wildfire smoke traveling south from eastern Canadian provinces brought a marked spell of haze, fumes and copper skies to the northeastern U.S. in June. The smoke has again resulted in hazy skies and triggered air quality alerts impacting Americans.

On Wednesday, air quality in New York City; Portland, Oregon; and Washington, D.C., were among the top 30 worst major cities in the world, according to the Swiss air quality technology company IQAir.

As of Wednesday, most of Canada's active fires were classified as "out of control," with 566 blazes in that category. Of the remaining wildfires being monitored, 199 were considered "under control" and another 120 were "being held," which is the label assigned when a fire is not under control but also is not moving. 

An image capture from the Fire Information for Resource Management System US/Canada shows active fires in the U.S. and Canada as of July 19, 2023.

Canadian officials have declared a "national preparedness level 5" in response to the wildfires, which means the country will deploy any resources necessary to combat the flames. Mr. Biden said in June that firefighters from the U.S. would be sent to Canada to assist in the effort, alongside others from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, a research officer from the Canadian Forest Office previously told CBS News.

According to the interagency center, U.S. firefighters were deployed to Canada on May 8, a month before wildfire smoke began drifting across the border and throughout the Northeast U.S. Since then, about 2,000 federal firefighters have been sent to Canada in rotations. 

As of July 17, there were 401 federal firefighters in Canada, many of them in Quebec, the agency said. The specialized crews include hot shots, smoke jumpers and fire management personnel from a range of federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

-Alex Sundby contributed reporting.

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