More than one in four Canadians told a polling firm this week that they have been affected by the record-setting wildfires that have rocked much of Canada over the spring, and more than three in four say they think there are more fires now than in the past.
The Leger poll comes just after Environment and Climate Change Canada issued an updated summer forecast that predicts the conditions that led to the spring wildfire catastrophe are not going to let up in July and August.
“Canadians have experienced a hot and dry spring,” said Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist Armel Castellan.
“Current seasonal forecasts suggest the anomalously hot conditions will continue across the country this summer.”
He said that means the risk of a high number of wildfires, more evacuations and smoke-filled skies continues.
There have been more than 2,700 wildfires in Canada so far this year, which have burned 59,000 square kilometres of forest and other land. That’s a total area more than 10 times the size of Prince Edward Island.
On Tuesday, 409 fires were still burning, 202 of them out of control.
The fires have led to tens of thousands of evacuations, and multiple warnings about high risk air quality as smoke from the fires settled over major urban centres including as far south as Washington, D.C.
In a Leger poll for The Canadian Press, 26 per cent of Canadians and 23 per cent of Americans said they have been directly or indirectly affected by fires this year.
In Alberta, where the fires have been particularly troublesome for two months, almost 40 per cent of respondents said they had been affected by the fires.
The Leger poll surveyed 1,500 Canadians and 1,000 Americans online between June 16 and 19.
The poll cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered to be truly random samples.
Nathan Gillet, a research scientist and atmospheric physicist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, said there is a multitude of evidence that climate change is contributing to heat waves in Canada.
There is also preliminary evidence that human-induced climate change increased the risk of the heat waves that hit this spring, particularly in British Columbia and Alberta, he said.
“May was a lot hotter than average.”
Castellan said the number of heat warnings the government issues annually has been increasing, and many such warnings have already been issued this year across the country.
The Leger poll suggests 61 per cent of Canadians think extreme heat is becoming more frequent, while 77 per cent said wildfires are more common, 69 per cent said poor air quality is more common and 63 per cent said large swings in temperature are becoming more frequent.
Also, 67 per cent of respondents said the changes in climate are worrying to them, and 37 per cent said they think it’s already too late to reverse climate change.
Half said they think there is still time to do so, while 12 per cent said they did not believe in climate change.