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Experts warning springtime wildfires showing early signals of summer conditions

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Experts say Canada should be on high alert heading into wildfire season this summer, with conditions mirroring those seen in 2023.

An extensive number of wildfires have already been reported in the Ottawa Valley this spring following dry and warmer than average conditions.

"We do see significant and extensive drought throughout Canada, from Ontario all the way through to the west," said Dr. Chris Stockdale, a forest research extension specialist with Natural Resources Canada.

"There are signals that we are seeing that are concerning."

Last summer saw Ottawa and much of the country blanketed in smoke and suffer through poor air quality as wildfires ravaged parts of Ontario and Quebec.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre National Fire Summary reported a total of 6,623 fires nationally in 2023.

"The number of fires last year wasn't extreme, it's how big they got," says Stockdale.

"That was the extreme event."

Across Renfrew County, at least 30 wildfires have been reported in the last month.

"We've had to respond to about half a dozen already, and it's very early. Usually this time of year, we're watching the snow partially disappear," said Tim Sutcliffe, the fire chief for Laurentian Valley.

Experts say when conditions are dry, there is no preventing lightning strikes from igniting wildfires. But a majority of those fires started are from humans, from instances such as unwatched campfires or discarded cigarettes.

"In every one of the cases that we had, it was created by people," Sutcliffe told CTV News. "And I know even last summer with a big fire season, most of those fires were caused by people."

With conditions trending in a similar direction to 2023, experts are on high alert for more wildfires this year.

"I anticipate it's going to be another dry summer and it's going to be very, very busy," said Sutcliffe.

"Everybody's going to have to be very, very careful."

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