Canadian zombie fires reigniting, sending smoke to US

Map of Canada showing red, orange and yellow areas in the northwest, with much blue in the east.
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.

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. 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.

Map of Canada nearly all covered with shades of yellow, with large red areas 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.


In addition to the zombie fires, new fires are also cropping up thanks to the drought conditions, warm temperatures and high winds. 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 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 U.S. 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.

Editor’s note: This article incorrectly reported the Fort Nelson (Parker Lake) fire as a zombie fire. It was in fact caused by a tree falling on a power line on May 10. Thanks to EarthSky reader Nicole Stevens for pointing this out.

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

May 15, 2024

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Kelly Kizer Whitt

View All