Canadian zombie fires reigniting, sending smoke to US

The Canadian zombie fires are reigniting with spring. Fires are raging near Fort Nelson, British Columbia, with evacuations of nearly 5,000 locals. The wildfire smoke has spread southward into the United States. Image via Sentinel 2 satellite.

Canadian zombie fires reigniting

Canada’s record wildfire season in 2023, with 6,551 fires burning around 46 million acres, went into hibernation over winter. But many of those fires continued to simmer away underground. Now that spring has arrived, some of those fires are raging again, including a fire near Fort Nelson, British Columbia, which led to an evacuation of nearly 5,000 people. As those zombie fires reignite, they threaten to scorch more areas of Canada while the smoke pours south into the United States.

The Canada Drought Monitor shows large areas of extreme drought throughout much of British Columbia and Alberta, with some areas peaking in exceptional drought. Parts of the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan also have regions of extreme drought.

This fire weather map of Canada from May 14, 2024, shows the location of the greatest risk of more wildfire in red. The small circles are hotspots, areas where satellites sense active fires. Much of the highest activity is in northern British Columbia and Alberta, where a drought persists. Image via Natural Resources Canada.
Map of Canada showing red to yellow shadings for extreme drought to milder drought, highest in northwest.
Here’s the drought map for Canada as of April 30, 2024. The darker colors indicate extreme drought, while yellow indicates abnormally dry conditions. Image via Canada Drought Monitor.

More evacuations

Late on Tuesday, Fort McMurray in northern Alberta issued evacuations for some neighborhoods as the fire there drew closer due to shifting winds and rising temperatures. Traffic clogged the highway as many tried to heed the evacuation orders. In May 2016, Fort McMurray experienced the largest wildfire evacuation in the province’s history. During that fire, 88,000 people evacuated as fire destroyed around 2,400 homes and buildings.

Zombie wildfire smoke invades the US

Over the last couple of days, areas in the United States have felt the impact of these zombie fires reigniting. Smoke has drifted down out of Canada across some of the northern states, with Minnesota and Wisconsin seeing smoky skies starting on Sunday. Plus, the smoke drifted all the way south to Kansas and Oklahoma on Tuesday. Check the air quality map at for the latest conditions.

Last year’s record wildfires in Canada meant orange skies for the US as the smoke crept southward. Some states saw their air quality index (AQI) reaching levels as high as 301-500, putting them in the worst “hazardous” category.

Bottom line: The Canadian zombie fires that have been simmering below ground all winter are reigniting with the spring warm up. Some raging fires in British Columbia and Alberta are sending smoke across the border into the US

Kelly Kizer Whitt

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About the Author:

Kelly Kizer Whitt has been a science writer specializing in astronomy for more than two decades. She began her career at Astronomy Magazine, and she has made regular contributions to AstronomyToday and the Sierra Club, among other outlets. Her children’s picture book, Solar System Forecast, was published in 2012. She has also written a young adult dystopian novel titled A Different Sky. When she is not reading or writing about astronomy and staring up at the stars, she enjoys traveling to the national parks, creating crossword puzzles, running, tennis, and paddleboarding. Kelly lives in Wisconsin.

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