Massive wildfires are often destructive, devastating and terrifying, which may be noted at any land around the world. With climate change, both the number and intensity of wildfires seem to have been increasing in recent years.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the average global temperature in the summer of 2019 was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit (0.95 degree Celsius) above the 20th century average. Many nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, America and Oceans shattered heat records. Globally, numerous alarming wildfires broke out in 2019. Some caused unprecedented damage.
Generally, most wildfires are driven by human activities and release a huge amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate warming. On the other hand, extreme warmth and dryness are an ideal arena for wildfires. In the era of global warming, massive wildfires are no longer local issues with risk to living environment and safety. They are also global issues that contribute to climate change. Thus, it is important for us to be aware of the scale and intensity of massive wildfires over the world in order to work out strategies to prevent and manage them.
This article presents a brief summary of major wildfires flamed over the world in 2019. Overall, wildfires have scorched an estimate of more than 37.2 million hectares (370,000 km2) of woodland, grassland and rainforest around the world since the beginning of 2019. Here’s a look at where some major fires had been burning around the world this year.
1. Australia Wildfires
Total fires: over 5,900
Burned area: Around 16.8 million hectares (42 million acres, 168000km2)
Fatalities: 28 deaths
Australia is the sixth-largest country over the world and the largest country in Oceania, with a total land area of 7.62 million square kilometers (2.94 million square miles). According to the Forests Australia website, Australia has a total of 134 million hectares of forest grouped into 458 forest communities as of 2016, accounting for 17% of Australia’s land area. Most of these forest communities are scattered in the states of New South Wales and Queensland.
Bushfires are an annual occurrence in Australia. Usually, the fire season in Australia runs from October to April. In 2019, fire season arrived early in eastern Australia. Since September 10, multiple massive bushfires began in the states of Queensland and New South Wales. Subsequently, the bushfires emerged in all the six states in Australia, destroying numerous homes. It was quite difficult to get so extensive bushfires under control. Consequently, the bushfires spread and persisted for more than 4 months. At present, many bushfires are still burning. New South Wales and Queensland are the two states most heavily affected. In New South Wales, the bushfires had burned through more land and longer period than any other blazes in recent decades, making this summer the state’s worst bushfire season on record.
As of 14 January 2020, an estimated total of 16.8 million hectares (42 million acres,168,000 square kilometers; 65,000 square miles) has been burnt across all Australian states, destroyed over 5,900 buildings and killed at least 28 people [1, 2]. A vast number of wild animals have also been killed and some endangered species may be driven to extinction. According to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, the 2019 bushfires in eastern Australia have already released about 400 million tons of CO2 into atmosphere – as much as two-thirds of Australia’s average annual CO2 emissions or the total combined annual CO2 emissions of the 116 lowest-emitting countries .
It is speculated that climate change may be contributing to the ferocity of Australia’s bushfires, since hotter and drier conditions may make the country’s fire season longer and much more dangerous. Australia is one of the driest continents on Earth. Over the past two years, many areas of south-east Australia have been enduring drought due to below-average rainfall. Heatwaves associated with global warming has further exacerbated the problem. Recently, record-breaking heatwaves have hit Australia, with temperatures reaching as high as 49 °C (120 °F) in the New South Wales. In addition, the bushfires may have been spread by strong winds. Some birds in Australia can also pick up burning twigs and drop them to unburned grass to start new fires.
2. Amazon Wildfires
Total fires: More than 224,000
Burned area: 12 million hectares (120,000 km2; 46,000 sq mi)
Fatalities: At least 2
Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest tropical forest, covering a land area of 6.7 million km2 (2.6 million sq mi). It’s home to 30 million people and hosts 10% of the world’s animals and plants. It captures up to 25% of global CO2 and generates 20% of the oxygen on Earth, making its viability a global concern.
Deforestation has been a major concern for decades in the Amazon rainforest that almost never burns on its own because of torrential rain. Each year, however, human-driven deforestation results in numerous wildfires across the Amazon area, including Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, during the dry season started in May. This year, unprecedented warmth and dryness were evident across the Amazon. NOAA reported that 2019 were the second warmest year on record in the Amazon area.
The Amazon rainforest wildfires in 2019 are most alarming and terrifying. Since June 2019, an increased number of wildfires had been noted through satellite monitoring systems by the Brazil’s space research center INPE. Thereafter, devastating fires were burning at a ‘record rate’, reported the BBC. On 11 August, Amazonas had declared a state of emergency. By August 20, the smoke plume from the fires in Rondônia and Amazonas darkened the sky above São Paulo – almost 2,800 kilometers away from the Amazon basin. Since then, wildfires in the Amazon rainforest become a major news story internationally.
By the end of August 2019, Brazil’s space research center INPE reported more than 80,000 fires across all of Brazil, a 77% rise on the same period in 2018, with more than 40,000 in the Amazon area. Numerous wildfires were also recorded in surrounding nations such as Bolivia and Peru. According to the latest data reported by Euronews, more than 224,000 fires have ravaged the Amazon basin this year and 12 million hectares of forest have been burned .
3. Wildfires in the Arctic and Its Surrounding Areas in 2019
Total fires: More than 4,700
Burned area: 8.3 million hectares (83,000 km2; 32,000 sq mi)
Fatalities: None reported
The Arctic is the area around the north pole of Earth, including Siberia (Russia), Alaska (USA), Canada and Greenland as well as the Arctic Ocean. The land within the Arctic Circle is a cold plain covered with moss and grass-like plants, while the Arctic Ocean is mostly covered with ice.
The Arctic zone may play an important role in regulating global climate. In recent years, however, the Arctic zone is reported to be warming faster than any other region on Earth (at a rate of almost twice the global average). It means that our Earth’s resilience to global warming may be reducing.
Wildfires in the Arctic zone are common in recent years. In 2019, the Arctic is suffering its worst wildfire season on record. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has called the 2019 Arctic wildfires “unprecedented”. Scientists estimated that more than 100 intense and long-lived wildfires in the Arctic in this year emitted 50 megatons of CO2 in June and 79 megatons of CO2 in July – more than the total released in the area in the same season between 2010 and 2018.
- Wildfires in Siberia:
This year, the massive wildfires in Siberia began in June in poorly accessible northern areas. As most of the affected area is not inhabited, most of the fires are not being attended by firefighters, allowing the fires freely burning and extending for a long time. According to NASA data, the smoke from burning Siberian forests reached the territories of Alaska and Canada.
According to the Russian Aerial Forest Protection Service, quoted by RFERL, more than 5.5 million hectares (13.5 million acres; 50,000 km2) of forests in Russia, mostly in Siberia, have burned in this summer, putting Russia on track for its worst year on record for wildfires . There have been no reported deaths or injuries due to the fires.
- Wildfires in Greenland:
In 2019, Greenland experienced an unprecedented amount and intensity of wildfires, more than in past decade combined. The largest wildfire, first detected on 10 July, took place between Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The fire persisted to August 2019. Overall, 93,000 acres (375 square kilometres) of woodland or grassland were destroyed .
Bloomberg reported that smoke from the wildfires had been billowing across the Greenland ice sheet, further driving up the already massive ice melt Greenland was experiencing amid record heat . According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), “an extensive area” equivalent to about 80 billion tons of the Greenland Ice Sheet disappeared over a 10-day period in July. In total, Greenland has lost over 250 billion tons of ice in this summer .
- Wildfires in Alaska:
It is said that wildfires are a normal part of life in Alaskan forests. In 2019, Alaska experienced an “extreme” fire season started from 30 April. According to Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, about 236 of the 663 fires that started this year were still burning in the state by 31 August 2019; over 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of forest was burned, TIME reported .
Although lightning sparks 361 of the total of 663 fires in Alaska this year, record-breaking temperatures and dried-out vegetation has also played an important role. Since May 2019, Alaska experienced “extreme” drought conditions, the US Drought Monitor reported. Record-breaking temperatures were also noted in some areas in Alaska in earlier July 2019.
- Wildfires in Canada
Canada is a country northward into the Arctic Ocean. Most of its land area is dominated by forest and tundra. Many communities are nested into forests with buildings and plants intertwined, so local communities are under an increased risk of wildfires. According to Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, Canada has so far registered 3,873 wildfires in the fire season of this year. In total, these wildfires have burned more than 1.8 million hectares of forests, reported CTV News .
The largest wildfire in this year is the Chuckegg Creek blaze in northern Alberta, which burned more than 570,000 acres (2,300 km2) of forests and led to about 10,000 people being evacuated. No fatalities were reported. Warming temperatures and increased drought are believed to be the biggest reason of the wildfires.
4. Wildfires in Europe in 2019
Total fires: More than 1,630
Burned area: Over 271,000 hectares (670,000 acres; 2,710 km2; 1,050 sq mi)
Fatalities & Injuries: unknown.
According to Copernicus’ European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), more than 1,626 wildfires had been recorded in the European Union this year by August 15 — more than three times the average over the past decade, the Euronews reported. More than 271,000 hectares in Europe had been ravaged by wildfires by mid-August this year .
- Wildfires in Spain
In this summer, Spain experienced the biggest wildfires in 20 years as heatwave griped Europe. On 26 June 2019, a wildfire broke out in the northeastern region of Catalonia. By 1st July 2019, the fire had burned across 6,500 hectares of woodland. On 29 June 2019, a wildfire broke out in Almorox, Toledo Province, and raged across 3,300 hectares (8,150 acres). From 10 to 20 August 2019, a series of forest fires broke out in the Canary Islands, resulting in the loss of large areas of the island’s forests and leading to the evacuation of more than 9,000 residents from over 50 towns and villages. Overall, the wildfires across Spain destroyed at least 57,000 hectares (140, 000 acres) of forest in 2019. No injuries were reported.
- Wildfires in the United Kingdom
A series of wildfires blazed in the United Kingdom from 26 February to 23 April 2019. These wildfires were remarkable since they happened at such an early date in the year. In total, the number of wildfires in the UK in 2019 was reported at 96, surpassing the previous record of 79 fires in 2018. It was estimated that over 39,537 acres (16,000 hectares) were damaged. The causes of most of the fires are attributed to much higher than average temperatures and drought conditions that have prevailed in UK since the spring of 2018.
- Wildfires in Greece
From 10 August to 15 September 2019, dozens of massive wildfires broke out on different islands of Greece, making thousands of tourists and residents evacuated. A massive wildfire ripping through a “unique, untouched pine forest” on the Greek island of Evia was described as a “huge ecological disaster”. At least 28,000 hectares of pine forest were destroyed, State television said. The burned area was not reported for other wildfires. According to the Greek fire department, more than 9,600 rural and urban fire calls (not all are wildfires) had been handled this year by the mid-September. No fatalities were reported. Last year, deadly wildfires killed 102 people in Greece as they spread throughout coastal Attica.
- Wildfires in Portugal
It is reported that Portugal register an average of 20,000 blazes (most are not wildfires) per year between 2009 and 2018. Portuguese towns and villages are often nestled in or next to forests. As documented in a France news report , poor forest management and firefighting techniques make Portugal especially vulnerable to wildfires in 2019 as climate change makes hotter, longer summers more likely. In the mid-July 2019, three huge wildfires ravaged the mountainous Castelo Branco region of central Portugal. Strong winds and hot climate (>100 degrees Fahrenheit) drove the wildfires through villages, destroying structures and injuring 39 persons. Some 2,000 firefighters worked for several days to bring the fires under control.
5. Wildfires in California in 2019
Total fires: 7,860
Burned area: 105,140 hectares (259,800 acres; 1050 km2)
Fatalities & Injuries: 22 injured; 5 deaths.
California is a state most vulnerable to wildfires in the United States. Each year, numerous wildfires in California are reported. In 2018, California suffered its most destructive wildfire season on record, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1.89 million acres.
In 2019, over 7,860 wildfires have been recorded in California. The largest three wildfires of this year are the Kincade Fire started on Oct. 23 (burned 77,758 acres in Sonoma county), the Walker Fire started on Sept. 4 (burned 54,518 acres in Plumas County) and the Tucker Fire began on July 28 (burned 14,150 acres in Modoc county). According to Cal Fire and the US Forest Service, a total of 105,140 hectares (259,800 acres) of forest had been burned in 2019 .
6. Wildfires in Sub-Saharan Africa
Total fires: More than 9000
Burned area: estimated > 1 million hectares
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region important for global climate, since the Congo Basin forest is the second largest tropical rainforest in the world. The forest is referred to as the “second green lung” of the planet after the Amazon. It covers an area of 3.3 million square kilometers in several countries including DR Congo, Gabon, Congo, Cameroon, and Central Africa.
Wildfire is quite a common event in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike in the Amazon where the forest burns mainly because of drought and climate change, Africa’s rainforest fires are often ignited by traditional seasonal farming or agricultural activities. Farmers usually use slash-and-burn farming to clear forest in the dry season and many people use wood for cooking and energy.
According to NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management Map, there were more fires in central Africa than in Amazon this summer. Data from Copernicus, a European Union’s Earth observation program, also showed that emissions from biomass burning were flagrant in the African strip across Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Although Africa is called by some researchers as the “fire continent,” fire registration system is not informative or even not available in many African countries. Local African media have also given little attention to fires in their own backyard. Thus, it seems difficult to know the exact number and scale of wildfires in each African country. Using the NASA satellite imagery, TIME estimated around 6,000 fires in Angola and more than 3,000 in Congo in 2019 .
Citing a study based the satellite data from the Copernicus program, TIME reported that the total area burned in Africa in 2016 was 4.9 million square kilometers (1.89 million sq. miles) . According to the data from the Global Forest Watch, there had been more fire alerts in the Democratic Republic of Congo than in Brazil in August 2019 . So, it may be estimated that the area burned in Africa in 2019 may not be less than 1 million hectares.
7. Wildfires in Asia in 2019
Total fires: over 5100
Burned area: 814,160 acres (329,000 hectares; 3290 km2; 1270 sq mi)
Fatalities & Injuries: at least 30 injured; 2 death.
- Wildfires in Indonesia
Since July 2019, massive forest fires have ravaged Indonesia, generating thick clouds of smoke and haze that blanketed parts of Southeast Asia, sickened people and endangered wildlife. The blazes were sparked by farmers who set land on fire to make room for new crops. Washington Post reported that 185 people were arrested and accused of starting the wildfires. In total, 5,086 fires had been recorded in Indonesia this year by September 20, and more than 800,000 acres of woodland and grassland were destroyed .
- Wildfires in China
According to media reports, a forest fire broke out in northwest China (Shanxi province) on 29 March 2019, destroying nearly 3,000 hectares of woodland. At least 9,000 people were evacuated. On March 30, more than 2,000 firefighters tackled a blaze in Beijing’s Miyun district, which burned 50 hectares of forest. On the same day, a separate forest fire in southwest China destroyed more than 15 hectares and killed 27 firefighters and four helpers.
- Wildfires in India
In February 2019, massive forest fires broke out in multiple places across a national park of the Karnataka state in India. The Indian Space Research Organization reported that the fires damaged an area of about 10,920 acres (4,420 hectares) in five days.
- Wildfires in South Korea
On April 4-6, 2019, a massive wildfire broke out in Goseong County, around 210 kilometers northeast of Seoul, South Korea. The fire damaged over 200 homes and 2000 buildings across an area of 1,307 acres (5.3 km2) and lead to two deaths, over 30 injuries and the evacuation of over 4,000 residents. It was believed that the fire was caused by a fell extra high-voltage wire. More than 13,000 firefighters were mobilized to fight the fire.
- Wildfires in Vietnam
Since the mid-June, a series of wildfires have been observed in central provinces of Vietnam. More than 782 hectares of forests are damaged in three provinces. No fatalities are reported.
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