International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire

Forest fire occurrence and climate change in Canada

B. M. Wotton A D , C. A. Nock B and M. D. Flannigan C

A Canadian Forest Service–Natural Resources Canada, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, M5S 3B3, Canada.

B Institute of Botany, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, 1180 Vienna, Austria.

C Canadian Forest Service–Natural Resources Canada, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, P6A 2E5, Canada.

D Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(3) 253-271
Submitted: 8 January 2009  Accepted: 12 October 2009   Published: 13 May 2010


The structure and function of the boreal forest are significantly influenced by forest fires. The ignition and growth of fires depend quite strongly on weather; thus, climate change can be expected to have a considerable impact on forest fire activity and hence the structure of the boreal forest. Forest fire occurrence is an extremely important element of fire activity as it defines the load on suppression resources a fire management agency will face. We used two general circulation models (GCMs) to develop projections of future fire occurrence across Canada. While fire numbers are projected to increase across all forested regions studied, the relative increase in number of fires varies regionally. Overall across Canada, our results from the Canadian Climate Centre GCM scenarios suggest an increase in fire occurrence of 25% by 2030 and 75% by the end of the 21st century. Results projected from fire climate scenarios derived from the Hadley Centre GCM suggest fire occurrence will increase by 140% by the end of this century. These general increases in fire occurrence across Canada agree with other regional and national studies of the impacts of climate change on fire activity. Thus, in the absence of large changes to current climatic trends, significant fire regime induced changes in the boreal forest ecosystem are likely.


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