Climate change made weather conditions that powered Quebec fires twice as likely, scientists say

Published: 28 August 2023

The record-setting wildfires that ripped through Quebec this summer were made more likely and more intense by human-caused climate change, according to a new analysis conducted by 16 researchers within the World Weather Attribution group, from universities and meteorological agencies in Canada, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S.

The group studies extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and heat waves to assess the role played by climate change.

Such analyses can serve an important role in shaping public policy, said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the Imperial College of London involved in the Quebec analysis.

"There are often important lessons that can be used for the next time such an event occurs," she said.

That's a sentiment echoed by Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, a climate data scientist at McGill University in Montreal who was not involved with the research.

We're entering a "new chapter" in our understanding of climate events, he said, also pointing to Australia's 2019-20 bushfire season, California's unprecedented 2021 wildfire season and the persistent heat waves that have swept through Europe for the past two summers.

"All these kinds of events, they are giving us a wake-up call," said Alizadeh. "We really need to adapt and update our adaptation plans, our definitions … and also even our studies and science."

Fire activity is forecast to increase more in the eastern part of the country, which is less prepared for big fires, than the west, previous research found.

"The eastern forests are much more sensitive to moisture changes," Alizadeh told NPR. A season of unprecedented heat and drought, like 2023, primes the region's densely packed forests to burn explosively.

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