Forest fires now more frequent across the globe

Given strong relationship between climate and fire, these fires are expected to occur more frequently, says US climate assessment report

By Vani Manocha
Published: Tuesday 13 May 2014

While natural causes like topography and wind movement have always been associated with these fires, sometimes they are also human-induced (Credit: Wikimedia)

Oklahoma in the US declared a state of emergency and a burn ban across 36 counties last week as miles-long wildfires raged out of control. But these wildfires are not limited to the US. From Russia and Spain in Europe to Chile in South America and Indonesia, Malaysia, Lebanon in West Asia, these fires are now frequent across the globe.

Earlier this month, the Siberian Federal District saw 104 forest fires on an area of 140,471 hectares.

In April, a deadly forest fire in Valparaiso in Latin America’s Chile killed at least 11 people, and destroyed 1,000 homes. Authorities called these fires, in which about 5,000 people had to be evacuated, as one of the worst fires in the history of city. In the same month this year, a fire in Valencia in the eastern part of Spain caused hundreds of people to be evacuated from their homes. It is being said that the stimulated growth of verdant undergrowth, triggered by high rainfall last winter, is expected to lead to more such fires on drying. In another incident, a huge fire, on Monday, spread at the Angale community forest, adjoining Khalanga in Nepal. Alerts have been sounded against these fires in Canada and Lebanon.

In the same month, California and Oklahoma in the United States saw unprecedented drought which has now led to accumulation of dry leaves which are cause of this fire. A wildfire in the Texas panhandle that destroyed about 100 homes and prompted the evacuation of hundreds of people over the weekend has largely been brought under control, said fire officials in the US.

A study, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the number of large wildfires in western US had increased by a rate of seven fires a year from 1984 to 2011, while the total area had increased at a rate of nearly 36,000 ha a year. Since 2000 more than 8 million acres have burned during six separate years. Before 2000, no year had witnessed fires on such a wide scale. The US government has also released a report saying it will take about $2 billion to extinguish the 2014 wildfires, which is about $470 million more than budgeted.

While natural causes like topography and wind movement have always been associated with these fires (mostly triggered by lightning), sometimes they are also human-induced. Unattended or out-of-control campfires, a discarded burning cigarette, arson, or even equipment use can set off a blaze. Experts in the US have also said that environmental regulations and legal challenges by environmental activists frequently delay the work of the forest service in the country. There is a possibility that these delays play a major role in the large fires.

Feature: Control of the multimillennial wildfire size in boreal North America by spring climatic conditions

Report: Findings and implications from a coarse-scale global assessment of recent selected mega-fires

Report: Increased risk of catastrophic wildfires: Global warming's wake-up call for the western United States

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