Wildfire news has increasingly dominated the headlines, with fires burning in one of the coldest regions of Siberia under the sun west coast of the United States. The fires are also getting more severe and ferocious with each passing year amid an escalating climate crisis. Here are just 10 interesting facts about wildfires around the world.
10 interesting facts about forest fires
Forest fires only need dry fuel, air and heat to ignite
Fires can start depending on three main factors: dry fuel such as dry leaves and vegetation, dead trees and other organic matter; dry air and abundant oxygen; and sources of heat and ignition, including high temperatures. In the presence of strong winds, wildfires can spread farther and faster, making it more difficult to smother them. These conditions combined have led countries like the United States to be more vigilant during “wildfire seasons,” usually between late summer and early fall, when weather conditions are warmer and drier.
Forest fires can occur naturally
One of the key conditions for a forest fire to start is an ignition source, and lightning strikes are often responsible for the vast majority of forest fires caused by strong electrical currents that land on forests and the vegetation. There are two types of lightning: cold and hot. Cold lightning is usually short-lived and therefore rarely starts a fire. Hot lighting, on the other hand, although it has less voltage, occurs for a longer period of time, thus increasing the risk of fire. But climate change is amplifying the rate and intensity of lightning strikes, triggering more extreme thunderstorms. According to a 2014 studyfor each degree Celsius increase in temperature, there is a 12% increase in the frequency of lightning strikes.
More than 80% of wildfires in the United States are human-caused
A report has revealed that careless human activities are responsible for approximately 84% of all wildfires in the United States and accounted for 44% of the total area burned. This includes abandoned cigarettes, campfires and barbecues that have not been extinguished properly, as well as so-called gender reveal parties – especially popular in the country where expectant parents use pyrotechnic devices to reveal the sex of a baby. A notable example is the El Dorado fire, where a smoke bomb caused a fire that lasted over two months and covered over 22,000 acres of Southern California. Another study showed that human-caused fires typically spread about 1.83 kilometers per day, more than twice as fast like fires caused by lightning.
Forest fires are a major cause of air pollution
Smoke from large-scale forest fires causes significant air pollution in the affected area and poses a threat to public health. In 2019, for example, 19 out of 20 most polluted cities in the USA were located in California, a state that suffered the most severe fires that season. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and aggravate chronic heart and lung disease. The smoke and inhalation of poor air quality can lead to minor problems such as burning eyes and allergies or, in the worst case, premature death. The 2021 wildfires that ravaged much of the southwestern United States were visible from the east coast, and smoke near the surface helped to foggy and even smoggy conditions.
Wildfire seasons are becoming longer and more intense due to climate change
As humanity dumps more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, trapping more heat, surface temperatures rise to potentially catastrophic levels. Higher temperatures and climate change are linked to increased heat waves, which in turn lead to longer droughts and reduced rainfall. With more dry vegetation available to ignite and higher rates of light thunderstorms, wildfires are becoming common, and they burn faster and also spread more widely. In the United States, a typical fire season that lasts four months now extends to at least six to eight months. The US Forest Service has even begun to adopt the concept of a fire year instead of seasons. This ultimately means that more property and people become more vulnerable to wildfires.
Wildfires release more GHG emissions, creating a vicious cycle
Dangerous smoke from wildfires is expected, but the fires also release significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, wildfires around the world – including in Siberia, the United States and Turkey – have issued a combined 1.76 billion tons of carbon, which is more than double Germany’s annual CO2 emissions. The Amazon rainforest, one of the most important carbon sinks in the world, has also become a source of carbon due to forest fires and deforestation. As mentioned above, greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, which fuels the conditions for more wildfires.
Australia’s Black Summer was the biggest wildfire of the 21st century
Bushfires 2019-2020 in the fire-prone country was one of the worst wildfires in recent history. Along with record high temperatures and months of severe drought, the bushfires have scorched about 186,000 square kilometers and destroyed 3,000 homes and buildings. It also killed dozens of people and 3 billion animals, including many of the country’s iconic koalas, which were recently declared as endangered Therefore. Black Summer’s smoke also caused the ozone layer depletion 1% layer, an amount that typically takes a decade to recover. Australia has already warmed 1.4C since the industrial revolution, a faster rate than the global average, meaning its risk of wildfires is also likely higher than in other parts of the world.
The 2020 California wildfire was one of the worst in US history
The record blaze first broke out around February 2020 and lasted for the rest of the year, tearing through parts of California, Oregon and Washington state. At some point, every 24 hours, an area the size of Washington DC was burned. Five of the six largest fires in the state were also recorded that year. By the end of 2020, nearly 10,000 fires have been recorded, burning more than 4 million acres of land, which equates to about 4% of the state’s land. In their wake, California wildfires claimed the lives of dozens of people, destroyed more than 10,000 buildings and cost billions of dollars in damage. Stanford researchers also estimate that the smoke and resulting poor air quality led to hundreds of premature deaths in cities across California and on the west coast of Washington and Oregon.
We can reduce wildfire risk through forest and land management
To reduce the risk of wildfires starting in the first place, the focus should be on reducing and eliminating ignition sources and dry fuel. Although it’s nearly impossible to stop lightning – and it’s hard to predict where it will strike – proper land management and landscape fire management planning can significantly reduce its ability to spread, minimizing damage. damage. This includes reducing and stopping deforestation, which would reduce available dry vegetation. More investments are therefore needed in forest management, such as forest stewardship, prescribing controlled burns to thin out forest overgrowth, and increasing sustainable timber harvesting programs. And given that humans account for more than 80% of wildfires, much more public education and awareness about proper fire suppression methods is needed.
Global wildfires are expected to increase by 50% by 2100
A recent report published by the UN predicts that global forest fires will increase by around 50% by the end of the century due to global warming and changes in land use patterns. Based on current trends, regions previously unaffected by wildfires will “most likely experience a significant increase in burning,” including remote northern regions like the Arctic, in peatlands being s drying and thawing of permafrost. Experts say we need to invest more in reducing fire risk and strengthen global commitment to fight climate change.
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