Deadly wildfires are raging around the globe again this year, driven by heat waves and dry conditions exacerbated by global warming. Major fires in Australia, Europe, North America and Russia have prompted states of emergency and calls for assistance from the international community, and the conditions in Sweden have resulted in wildfires occurring north of the Arctic Circle.
Wildfires in California, most notably the Mendocino Complex Fire — the largest wildfire in the state’s history — have burned nearly a million square acres, and has been declared a national disaster. The fires were fueled by a record number of dead trees, a situation resulting from the hot, dry conditions fueled by global warming. So far, the conflagration has killed 9 civilians and 5 firefighters, with at least 7 people still missing.
NASA has released a map of the carbon monoxide plume generated by the California fires, found to have drifted across the continental US as far as the east coast. Thankfully, this CO plume is currently not a hazard to human health, as it is high in the atmosphere.
Canada’s province of British Columbia has also been fighting over 560 wildfires this year, with over 200 firefighters responding to the Comstock Lake fire at one point; in BC alone, over 1.1 million acres of forest have burned this year, tripling the annual average. On August 17, the smoke from nearby wildfires was thick enough to completely blot out the sun for the city of Prince George, with the residents making their morning commute in total darkness. The thick haze thinned by mid-morning, but poor air quality remained off the charts, with one local journalist remarking that one "can feel the smoke and ash the second you step outside." Across North America, wildfires have also plagued Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Washington states.
Europe has been especially hard hit by heat waves this year, with the resulting drought and drought-like conditions fueling the deadly wildfires in Greece’s Attica region, killing 96 people, the world’s second deadliest wildfire in the 21st century. The inferno prompted Greece’s government to declare a state of emergency, responding to the fires with over 600 firefighters, 250 fire engines, and the country’s entire fleet of firefighting aircraft.
Australia, currently experiencing its warmest winter on record, responded to a major fire in southwest Sydney, requiring 500 firefighters and 15 aircraft to combat. Hundreds of residents were evacuated; thankfully, no fatalities were reported.
Fires in Russia consumed over three quarters of a million acres this year. The smoke from these wildfires was intense enough to prompt authorities to issue an air quality warning in Canada, once again in Prince George, on July 25, and again in Puget Sound, WA on July 29. Amur Oblast, in Russia’s southeast, reportedly had more fires per month this year than any year since 2008.
Even the Arctic isn’t immune to the scorch of unchecked infernos: with 40 fires, Sweden is suffering from the largest number of wildfires seen by the country in modern history, prompting evacuations and assistance from the international community; the fires came as a surprise, as Sweden was only forecast to see around three wildfires this season. The fires were also not confined to any one region, ranging from the country’s southernmost county of Scania to north of the Arctic Circle. Thankfully, no fatalities have been reported.
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