Canadian Wildfires Are Already Turning Sunsets Red in the US

Pyrocumulus clouds above a wildfire near High Level, Alberta, Canada.
Pyrocumulus clouds above a wildfire near High Level, Alberta, Canada.
Image: Pierre Markuse (Flickr)

The calendar hasn’t turned to summer yet, but skies in Canada and across the U.S. already look like August. Smoke from massive Canadian wildfires has made the sun disappear in Edmonton and turned Friday’s sunrise blood red as far east as Vermont.


More than 900,000 acres of Alberta has gone up in flames, the latest symptom of our overheating planet. Wildfire risk continues to be high in the province as well as neighboring British Columbia where a heat wave has temperatures climbing into the 90s for parts of the province through the weekend.

There are currently 10 fires in Alberta raging out of control according to the province’s fire agency. The largest of which is the Chuckegg Creek Fire burning in the northwest part of the province. The blaze, combined with others in the High Level fire district, has consumed more than 610,000 acres as of Thursday according to the agency, and along with the other wildfires in the province, forced 10,000 to flee from their homes.

The province remains on a Level 5 alert, the highest alert level the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) issues, due to a combination of factors including dangerous weather, high fuel loads, and inadequate resources to respond to any new fires. The country as a whole remains on a Level 3 alert, and with a hot, dry weekend ahead for British Columbia, Alberta, and parts of the Yukon Territory, the threat of more conflagrations remains acute.

Those not in immediate danger are still dealing with the impacts of the large fires. Smoke streamed into Edmonton, the province’s capital located roughly 350 miles from the worst of the fires, on Thursday. The air turned a toxic yellow with residents capturing otherworldly photos of the skyline and likening the scene to the apocalypse. Which yes.


Americans got to enjoy a slightly more diluted dose of wildfire smoke. Blood red sun enthusiasts from Iowa to Vermont were treated to an angry orb in the sky on Thursday during sunset and again on Friday morning for sunrise.


Canada is already well ahead of wildfire season schedule this year. According to CIFFC, nearly 1 million acres of land have burned in 2019. The 20 year average for this time of year is just 372,000 acres.


But then what’s average anymore really? The world has heated up, increasing the risk of large wildfires and lengthening wildfire season. Rising temperatures mean that snow melts out earlier. That, in turn, can dry out vegetation, priming it for exploding into a major fire once sparked. It’s a trend playing out across North America and the northern boreal forest is particularly susceptible. The curtain of trees that covers northern Canada as well as parts of Alaska, Scandinavia, and Russia is burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years, largely due to rising temperatures. As it burns, it releases stored carbon dioxide into the air spurring along climate change.

It’s enough to make any sane person think that yeah, maybe we should do something about humanity’s own carbon emissions before we get locked in an even more vicious feedback cycle of big burns and more emissions. But because irony is dead, Jason Kenney, Alberta’s newly installed conservative premiere, canceled the province’s carbon tax on Thursday just as the air in the capital turned toxic. He had to cancel his celebratory event at a gas station to get briefed on the massive fires engulfing his province.


Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.



Lifelong Albertan here. This is the absolute earliest I can remember our city being choked out by smoke. Air quality is a 10+, something we didn’t hit until August last year. This has become the new normal around here, though generally as a result of BC forest fires and our generally westerly-flow. However, we have had significant fires starting in May in the northern part of the province fairly often now. Chuckegg this year. Fort McMurray in 2016. Slave Lake in 2011.

2018 was our smokiest year, with the largest city in Alberta, Calgary, registering over 320 hours of smoke in the air. 2017 was no better with 315 hours. Prior to that 2015 was our 5th smokiest year on record at 155 hours, with 1969 and 1972 in between. Now in 2019, the city is already at at least 50 by my unofficial count.

Now I’m not a “shut down the oil sands” by any means type. But carbon has a cost and I absolutely believe it should be taxed as such and its embarrassing that our new government is rolling back climate action amid a climate-related disaster. I’m sick of getting choked out by smoke every summer (and to be fair, that’s generally coming from BC which has its own problems such as actively removing natural fire barriers in favour of more profitable coniferous trees that burn better). But unfortunately, it’s impossible to be a fiscal conservative in this province without also being a climate-change denier it seems so here we are.