Unraveling the Enigma: Canadian Wildfires, a Stroke of Misfortune

New York City recently grappled with one of its worst air quality experiences in half a century, a victim of dense smoke wafting southwards from the Quebec province in Canada. The headlines were swift to pin the blame on climate change. Yet, Clifford Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, writing in the Wall Street Journal, begs to differ. In his words,

“these claims are inconsistent with peer-reviewed science, the observational record and our growing understanding of the meteorology associated with wildfire events.”


Professor Mass, who has published extensively on wildfire meteorology and studied the effects of climate change on atmospheric circulation, as well as receiving funding from both the US Forest Service and the National Science foundation to specifically research wildfire meteorology, offers a different perspective. He explains that an

“unusual atmospheric circulation resulted in wildfire ignition and rapid growth,” with climate change being “only a minor player in this event.”


The crux of his argument is rooted in the understanding of the natural ecology and the associated climatic events of the boreal forests of northern Quebec. Fire isn’t a stranger in these woods. The region’s ecosystem relies on fires for the release of seeds and overall forest health. Fires are not unusual during a narrow window from mid-April to early June, after winter snow has melted and before grasses and other smaller plants grow, reducing flammability.

Historically, the boreal fires have been known to occur during the spring, like the infamous May 2010 fire and the May 1870 Saguenay fire. According to Mass,

“large boreal forest fires during the spring in Canada are neither unusual nor a sign of climate change.”


The recent wildfires began on June 2, ignited by hundreds of lightning strikes on vegetation dried by a week of unusually warm weather. The Canadian drought monitor reflected normal moisture conditions and temperatures close to or below average prior to the warm spell. This refutes any claims of abnormal dryness as the ignition point.

The circumstances were set in motion when a high-pressure system started forming over south-central Canada around May 27. It led to an environment ripe for wildfires, warming and drying the area for several days into early June. The final ignition source arrived early in June with a lightning storm associated with low pressure. As Mass aptly puts it,

“It was the perfect storm for smoke in New York, with several independent elements occurring in exactly the right sequence.”


However, the debate around climate change’s involvement is still rife. Mass argues,

“It’s difficult to find any plausible evidence for a significant climate-change connection to the recent New York smoke event.”


Interestingly, despite an increase in both precipitation and temperature in Quebec over the past half-century, the number of wildfires is decreasing. Mass states,

“Even assuming that this warming is entirely human-induced, it represents only a small proportion of the excessive heat during the event.”


The weather conditions in Quebec preceding the wildfire event were largely normal, and the high pressure over southern Canada, responsible for the warming, has no proven association with climate change.

Drawing a metaphor with card games, Mass underscores that our atmosphere, a chaotic system, is dominated by random natural variability. Much like the rare luck of being dealt a full house or a straight flush in a card game, many extreme weather events hinge on random factors, with climate change’s effects relatively small compared to the random variations inherent in our complex atmospheric system.

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Ron Long
June 13, 2023 10:08 am

How can the CAGW idiots, at least those that can read, not take the comments of Professor Mass into consideration? Oh, the whole CAGW issue is a political tool, and the only reality is whatever supports it?

Reply to  Ron Long
June 13, 2023 10:49 am

In some cases because accepting real science means they need to take some of the blame. In this case, PM Trudeau of Canada has been in charge of poor forest management for years, easy way out is to blame climate change – not my fault. Recall then Governor Christie after tropical storm Sandy, hugging Obama on the beach, not my fault we weren’t prepared for a storm, climate change

Smart Rock
Reply to  Greg61
June 13, 2023 11:41 am

Sorry Greg. You are totally wrong. Forest management in Canada is the exclusive responsibility of the Provinces and Territories. Much as you might want to blame Trudeau, the federal government has nothing to do with it.

And the provinces and territories actually do a tolerably good job of forest management, only fighting fires when they start to threaten habitations and infrastructure. They have to do proper forest management because big segments of their economies are based on softwood lumber and pulp & paper.

As Cliff Mass correctly points out, fire is a normal part of the boreal forest ecosystem. This year’s fires in Quebec are unusually large and numerous, but the real reason that this year’s fires are an issue is because the winds just happened to carry the smoke directly over southern Ontario and the northeastern US. These are densely populated areas, full of people who don’t have a freaking clue about the boreal forest, and who are ready to shout “climate change” at every weather event.

Here is a link to the earth.nullschool.net particulates map on June 7th

June 7th PM10 & wind

joe x
Reply to  Smart Rock
June 14, 2023 4:18 am

i agree with most of your post with the exception of “Forest management in Canada is the exclusive responsibility of the Provinces and Territories.”

Provinces may be the ones on the ground doing the actual work but they get their marching orders from the canadian forest service. that is what i understand from reading this link.

Reply to  Ron Long
June 13, 2023 11:23 am

They are not idiots. Their paycheck depends on NOT understanding it.

June 13, 2023 10:30 am

Big article in The (Glasgow) Herald today by some wifie who refuses to accept the data and belives that the current wildfires (and hurricanes, tornados etc.) are caused by CAGW.
How do you convince folk like that if they won’t believe the records?

Tony Sullivan
Reply to  Oldseadog
June 13, 2023 12:04 pm

Like a child brainwashed from birth to fervently follow a cult, that is essentially what we’re dealing with. All ability to objectively consider an alternate viewpoint is non-existent as they’re simply going to default to the higher authority fallacy.

Reply to  Oldseadog
June 13, 2023 12:39 pm

How do you convince folk like that if they won’t believe the records?

How was Thomas Aquinas convinced that God does not exist?

Reply to  Oldseadog
June 13, 2023 5:44 pm

How? You don’t. You just make darn sure they never get into positions of authority.

Tom Halla
June 13, 2023 10:34 am

Most wildfires are related to forest management more than weather. Not doing logging and/or controlled burns leads to larger and more intense fires.
But greens have the notion that “leaving nature alone” is a viable policy, which ignores that Native Americans have lived in the area since before the end of the last ice age. Lack of active management is the new thing, not management.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 13, 2023 12:11 pm

not only controlled burns- but collecting the low value trees and slash from logging, chipping it, and sending it to biomass power plants- but no, the climatistas will have none of that

better to burn the stuff in a power plant- with smokestack precipitators to minimize particulate matter- than having it burn in the open and sending it to cities with the loss of that potential electric power

woody biomass in power plants could be a big industry in the northeast- and it would dramatically improve forestry- getting rid of the low value trees means we can grow high value trees

the battle over forestry and biomass continues to rage here in the northeast- I’ve been involved with these battles for decades, especially here in the belly of the beast, Woke-achusetts

now the climatistas want to end all tree cutting- it’s called proforestation

John Hultquist
June 13, 2023 10:54 am

In today’s WSJ there is also an article with nice photos titled “Canadian Fires Signal New Frontier  …” that has interviews with locals and academics that claim all the usual AGW. Each of those folks would have to be confronted with “the records” [Oldseadog, above] and then the recant would have to be presented to each and every “wifie” of the world. Conversion rate would be about 3% (rhymes with 97). Not going to happen.

June 13, 2023 11:02 am

I live in Eugene OR. On the coast north of Florence OR is Heceta Head Lighthouse.The hillside today is covered in trees and you can’t see the road from the keepers house to the lighthouse. We were able to tour a part of the keepers house and there are photographs inside of the early days of it, and the hillside and much of the surrounding area are bare. The tour guide says the native population kept that area burned off so the elk would come to graze and they could hunt them.

June 13, 2023 11:08 am

Robert Brame is a forensic arborist who has analyzed 38 California fires and has come up with hundreds of photographic evidence of IMPOSSIBLE normal fire behavior. Let’s use this information to help us look for CLUES in the CANADIAN fires to see if the same anomalies exist. 

Mr Ed
June 13, 2023 11:58 am

Add Bloomberg New to the list of climate alarmist/fibbers:

Bloomberg News: This wildfire smoke disaster won’t be the last–Growing evidence suggests changes in climate and land use are making wildfires more frequent and intense, with extreme fires estimated to rise 14% by 2030.

I recall the “Fort Mac Fire” back in 2016, started on May 1. A forestry
forum I read at the time had some interesting 1st hand accounts of
that event. One was a couple of guys who happened to be in a small fishing
boat on a lake when the fire blew up. They decided to get off the water when
large burning tree trunks started falling out of the sky splashing around them from
several miles away.

The other was the number of cars stalled out along the highway when evacuating.
The media reported it was due to running out of fuel. My sources told
be it was the emissions systems that shut down all these vehicles deom the smoke
. The same thing happened a few years later in California during a wild fire where
a large number of people died during a wildfire evacuation. I’m sharing
this info here in case anyone lives in a forested area such as I do. I have
a couple of older vehicles without any emission control devices for use in such
a situation I keep on the ready.

The Ft Mac fire was the single largest natural disaster event in Canada’s history
@ over $9.9 Billion in costs. The same people that blame wildfires on climate
change are the same groups stopping sound forest management, so curious..

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Mr Ed
June 13, 2023 12:15 pm

“The same people that blame wildfires on climate change are the same groups stopping sound forest management, so curious.”


Mr Ed
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
June 13, 2023 12:30 pm

I appreciate your comments on forestry, I’ve only visited your area
a few times but I found the Cape area enchanting, esp. the fly fishing.

In my haste, I also forgot to add that Cliff Mass’s analysis was brilliant as

Joseph Zorzin
June 13, 2023 12:03 pm

“many extreme weather events hinge on random factors”

It’s a really big planet – some “extreme weather” will happen somewhere every day- and now everyone on the planet can know about it- no need to panic

June 13, 2023 12:17 pm

Remember when they used to say weather isn’t climate?

Now any event is climate this, that and the other

June 13, 2023 12:41 pm

The underlying reason more CO2 in the atmosphere is not the cause of nor the enhancement of forest fires.

Joe Gordon
June 13, 2023 1:04 pm

I remember Pat Robertson, who coincidentally died during this fire outbreak. Despite my personal “climate model” showing a connection, these events were likely not connected.

Robertson made a name for himself taking over the Reform Party after Ross Perot’s fade. Robertson was also famous for his claim, after Katrina, that sin in New Orleans was the cause of the hurricane.

I don’t know how many people believed him, but at his height, while he was trying to merge church and state, he was fairly influential.

Now we have a full merger of church and state. The problem isn’t the science involved. Even a layman can see fairly clearly that the church has not proven this claim that fossil fuel use caused this outbreak. The problem is Faith. With Faith, no logic, no science, no appeal for sanity, nothing can challenge the belief.

Our Founding Fathers accomplished a lot. But their greatest achievement was in the understanding that church and state must be separated. People can have Faith like this. It’s inevitable. When people don’t understand something, they automatically turn to those who claim they do. Charismatic people like Pat Robertson and Al Gore made wild claims and they inspired a lot of people to their particular faith.

I don’t know what we can do to elect leaders who understand what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison so clearly understood. The Democrats are full-in on this, and want to enact laws preventing sites like this one from even existing. If they gain control of all three branches of the government, people like me will be jailed for questioning their Faith.

But the Republicans are too busy worrying about men dressing up like women and winning athletic events or going to libraries to read children’s stories to see the bigger picture. They’re on board with this, too, beholden to the same corporate entities that see value in eliminating troublesome concepts like our Constitution.

This is why I’m certain we’re headed for another round of the Dark Ages, and I’m not just talking about the power grid not working.

Reply to  Joe Gordon
June 13, 2023 2:58 pm

Joe says:”But their greatest achievement was in the understanding that church and state must be separated.”

If they understood this separation thing then why did they not write it into the constitution?

Why would Washington in his farewell address argue “… that religious principles promote the protection of property, reputation, life, and honor that are the foundations of justice.”

I think you are wrong Joe.

Joe Gordon
Reply to  mkelly
June 13, 2023 3:57 pm

Individual Founding Fathers varied in their religion. Which was precisely why they felt they should have an establishment clause.

Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association leaves little doubt as to the impetus for and meaning of the First Amendment.

Reply to  Joe Gordon
June 14, 2023 9:55 am

So it was one man’s letter, who may have varied in his religion, that brings you to the separation of church and state?

But you didn’t answer my question. You claimed they understood that state and church needed to be separate, but they failed to write that in Constitution. Why?

I disagree with why you think there is an establishment clause. They didn’t want a state church like The Church of England. For many years there were religious tests for holding state offices. Not which religion just that you were.

Joe Gordon
Reply to  mkelly
June 14, 2023 11:05 am

This is a discussion that has often taken place at the Supreme Court level. What has won out consistently is the understanding that Jefferson was a lead author of sorts, relying heavily on Madison.

If you study drafts of early forms of the Bill of Rights, you can see that it wasn’t just that they wanted to prohibit a state religion, but they also consistently rejected attempts to fund individual sects or codify anything to do with the management of individual sects.

Jefferson’s letter is our best look at the philosophy behind this group decision, but there are many examples of how they intended for it to work. You can look at individual cases from the early 1800s to see bills that failed for these specific reasons.

You also mention that there were religious “tests” for holding state offices. I’m not sure what you mean. If no one sues alleging a rights violation, the federal government rarely steps in. We can look at the post-WWI return to fundamentalism as something that could lead to dark ages.

But what saved us then was the classical liberalism in universities and with young people entering the adult world.

This time, it’s the opposite. The new religion is coming from the universities and young people are being indoctrinated. That’s why I feel so hopeless about it. We will have to endure at least a generation of this rule and experience the failure of the power grid and decades of China being the world’s major superpower and what that will do to our rights before anyone really fights this. I will be long gone by then.

June 13, 2023 1:07 pm

Very nice Cliff.

Smart Rock
June 13, 2023 1:58 pm

Predictably, the NYT links the current forest fires in Quebec to Ontario having cancelled some wind power projects. The causal link is obvious if you’re a true believer, not so much if you have the ability to think.

Link here

Edward Katz
June 13, 2023 6:14 pm

Articles like this this are carefully downplayed or suppressed entirely by the leftist-supported media which try to attribute every possible slightly extraordinary event to climate change. Their real motives are obvious: enviro-alarmist groups are simply looking for more donations, while governments are trying to generate more excuses to raise taxes and add new laws and restrictions in the name of fighting a non-existent “crisis”.

June 13, 2023 11:07 pm

General question for all of you. I have been reading WUWT for years and am well read in, and in agreement with, the anti-climate alarmism literature. What do all of you think about Dane Wigington’s Geoengineering Watch https://www.geoengineeringwatch.org/ and his apocalyptic end of all life on earth prophecies very soon? I am convinced Geoengineering is being done with destructive results, but…. Thanks for comments. Keep free then safe.

June 14, 2023 4:47 am

There is a lot of nonsense talked about forest fires (or bushfires as they are called in Australia). Firstly the basic stuff about fires is ignored; in first year high school science you are taught that fire needs 3 things viz., fuel, air and a source of ignition. If anyone of these is absent fires do not happen.

In the bush fuel is provided by fallen vegetation such as bark, flowers, twigs etc. Air is everywhere but what is usually missing is a source of ignition. Dry paper or wood will not ignite much below 290C (554F) so a small increase in atmospheric temperature of 1-2C (or ~2-4F) will not start a fire. A fire must be separately ignited and common causes are lightning, human intervention, failure of electric equipment such falling power lines, etc.

The subsequent consequences of the start of the fire depend very much on the amount of fuel present. CSIRO in Australia has determined that if the fuel load exceeds 2kg/m2 or about 0.5lbs/ft2 then such a fire CANNOT be extinguished. It must be allowed to burn all of its fuel and the best that can be done is to contain it. Containment is achieved by cutting fire breaks, dampening areas not yet burning and of course attempting to extinguish the fire itself to reduce spread.

Having some limited experience in bush fire fighting, I can confirm that it is difficult to extinguish forest fires. In my experience it is not possible to apply enough water to the flames to more than temporarily stunt the fire which will flare up again after the water has evaporated due to the residual heat in the unburnt vegetation. Frequently surface fires ignite vegetation below the ground where there is interstitial air and hollow trees may be burning within. Thus it is usually necessary to come back over the fire ground several times to ensure that the fire does not self-reignite.

If the fire is burning in areas with more than the critical fuel load, then other phenomena may come into effect. A sufficiently large fire generates its own weather and fire tornados may result. A large fire can also sterilise the earth resulting in the killing of seeds which may otherwise require fire for their germination. Such seeds require a gentler fire than that of a major bushfire.

So the question arises how to prevent large fires and this best achieved by managing fuel loads so that any resulting fires are sufficient to clear weeds and underbrush without sterilising the ground and are mild enough to allow animals time to escape or to seek protection until the fire is past. Fuel loads are managed by setting frequent small fires at times when the temperatures are low and maybe there has been some rain to reduce the severity of the fire.

The question also arises as to how quickly the fuel loads can reach critical amounts. In temperate rain forest regions and in temperate grasslands of Australia, I have estimated using studies from the University of Armidale and my own experience in the grasslands using pasture growth studies undertaken by the NSW Agriculture Departments, that critical fire fuel loads can easily be reached within 2 to 5 years. Thus in order to avoid major very destructive fires a cycle of cool burning has to be more frequent than 2 to 5 years depending on circumstances.

Sadly the efforts that are necessary to mitigate fire damages requires for more action than can often be provided. This has often resulted in totally inadequate plans for cool burns. Furthermore, it is often the case that even these inadequate plans have not been achieved with the sum total resulting in huge fires and major damages to property and stock. Such was the case in 2019 in Australia and a similar situation seems to have developed in Canada.

The damage from fires has also been exacerbated by people choosing to live in fire prone areas or even in fire prone topography. Despite this there has still been a decline in the number and size of major fires in Australia and I see reported much the same in Canada. this is probably mainly due to our ability to detect fires more readily, more effective fire fighting methods and to apply them more rapidly and effectively.

None of this has to do with climate change and average temperature increase of a few degrees.

Reply to  tmatsci
June 14, 2023 6:46 pm

Fuel loads are managed by setting frequent small fires at times …..”. Goats can operate all the time.

June 14, 2023 7:14 am

How much of the understanding of the societal interactions in America are shaped by the experience of poker playing and concepts of poker so called “probabilities”?

Caleb Shaw
June 15, 2023 6:30 am

Only roughly half of all fires are caused by lightning. The stupidity of man gets 50% of the blame. Not all stupidity is arson, but statistics show arson is a contributor to the fires.

Recently it has been noted some arsonists dress in the “uniform” of Antifa. This is a stupid idea, if you want Global Warming to get the blame, but no one has ever accused arsonists of being particularly smart.

The fact there may be a political motive behind the fact these fires occurred coast to coast in Canada seems to be a subject few want to touch with a ten foot pole. I suppose it makes one look like a nutty conspiracy theorist, and people fear looking like that. However they do send investigators out to see how fires started. I find it suspicious that so many fires started close to roads, when you’d think lightning would hit the high places.

Maybe I am a bit of a nut, but too many conspiracy theories are turning out to be true not to at least be suspicious. I want to learn what the investigators discover. In a worst case scenario, we are dealing with a sort of terrorism. Terrorism must be boldly faced. These fires are costing people their homes and even lives. Arson is not any sort of “peaceful demonstration”, if politically motivated.


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