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Fire Disasters in Canada

Disastrous fires may result from arson, accident or uncontrolled forest fire. Their impact may include lives lost, people evacuated and property damaged. Numerous fires, especially forest fires, occur in Canada every year; this article details the worst that have occurred throughout the country’s history.

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The Background: Summer Wildfires in Canada

Wildfires occur every summer. However, the scale and frequency of wildfires is increasing due to climate change. In 2020, for example, California experienced its worst wildfire season on record, with smoke from that region billowing north to British Columbia and other provinces. In 2018, wildfires in British Columbia burned 1,354,284 hectares — more area than ever before. Here is the background on wildfires, from a Canadian perspective.

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Seven Syrian Children Die in Halifax House Fire

The seven children of Ebraheim and Kawthar Barho, Syrian refugees who immigrated to Canada in 2017, were killed in an early morning house fire in Halifax’s Spryfield area. The children’s ages ranged from four months to 15 years. Halifax deputy fire chief Dave Meldrum called the death toll “the largest loss that we have in our memory.” A vigil held the next day was attended by hundreds of people, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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Great Fire of Toronto (1904)

On 19 April 1904, a fire swept through 20 acres of Toronto’s industrial core. By the time firefighters contained it, the blaze had destroyed at least 98 buildings. The fire incurred around $10 million in losses and left thousands unemployed. One person died in its aftermath. The disaster is known as the Great Fire of Toronto or the Second Great Fire of Toronto (the first major fire occurred in 1849). It exposed the city’s need for safer building codes and a high-pressure water system.

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BC Declares State of Emergency due to Forest Fires

A province-wide state of emergency was issued after 566 forest fires across the province forced more than 3,000 people to evacuate their homes. The federal government deployed 220 Armed Forces personnel, two helicopters and an airplane to assist  3,372 firefighters already on the ground. By the end of August, more than 12,984 sq. km had burned, making 2018 the worst forest fire season in BC history.

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Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster

In the early morning of 6 July 2013, a runaway train hauling 72 tankers filled with crude oil derailed as it approached the centre of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The tanker cars exploded and the oil caught fire, killing 47 people and destroying many buildings and other infrastructure in the town centre. The fourth deadliest railway disaster in Canadian history, the derailment led to changes in rail transport safety rules as well as legal action against the company and employees involved in the incident. Years after the derailment, re-building was still ongoing and many of the town’s residents continued to suffer from post-traumatic stress.