Wildfires from northern Ontario bring smog, air pollution to KW


An unusually high number of forest fires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario have led to large amounts of smoke moving through the eastern half of the province, as well parts of the United States. As of the writing of this article, Kitchener’s air quality health index sits at a 4, denoting moderate risk. 

Environment and Climate Change Canada recently issued a special air quality statement for the Waterloo Region, advising people to be cautious and aware of any irritation or difficulty breathing.

Kyle Reekie, a third year arts student noted the amount of wildfires going on, and how it feels like not much can be done to prevent it. “It’s kind of ironic, [wearing] a mask outside now, and inside, a few years ago,” he said. “We’re just lucky [the fires] aren’t happening here.” 

Swarnima Pandey, a third year arts student, described how scary it was to see the severe weather warning as well as the smog in KW. “You can see everything changing in front of your eyes,” Pandey said.

Professor Daniel Scott, whose research focuses on the human dimensions of global environmental change, climate and society, and sustainable tourism, described the impact of climate change on the increased amount of wildfires Ontario is seeing. In an email, Scott stated that though not every forest fire is the result of climate change, a recent study in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that 37 per cent of the total burned forest area in Western Canada and the United States between 1986-2021 can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change.

Scott described how models from the Canadian Forest Service from twenty years ago showed how “shorter winters, warmer springs, increased pest damage, and more convective storms would worsen wildfires and accelerate change in the Boreal forest. We are now seeing those projections play out in the Boreal zone across Canada.” 

While boreal forests do need to burn occasionally to remain healthy, Scott said, Canada’s usage of French and Australian firefighters reflects recent discussion around the need to train reserves to be called up if necessary. “Building more capabilities in equipment and reservists is the type of climate change adaptation that has been suggested by [scientists] for years,” he said. 

Scott also stated that the impacts on air quality southern Ontario is currently experiencing may not be common here, but are something many communities in western Canada, northern Ontario, and Quebec witness far more regularly.

“This is the future of the Boreal forest in a warmer world,” Scott said. “Climate change will make these conditions more regular and, in some cases, more severe.”