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Spreading like wildfire

Nature Climate Change

The 2017 wildfire season has seen unusually high fire levels in many parts of the world, with extensive and severe fires occurring in Chile, the Mediterranean, Russia, the US, Canada and even Greenland. Is this a sign of things to come?

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During January and February, Chile experienced what their president Michelle Bachelet called “The greatest forest disaster in our history”. The nation was not adequately equipped to tackle these fires, leading the government to enact a state of emergency and accept help from the US, France, Peru and Mexico. The fires burned more than 364,000 ha. A combination of long-term drought and high temperatures facilitated these extreme fires. The expansion of large, monoculture plantations of highly combustible trees such as eucalyptus and pine are also believed to be responsible for the extreme intensity of the blazes in Chile.
As the seasons progressed through the northern hemisphere, Southern Europe also experienced an unusually high fire season. The European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) (http://go.nature.com/2yrNlPd) shows the geographical pattern of fires and provides an indication of how unusual the 2017 season has been. This year's total burned area is estimated at about 622,000 ha compared with a 2008–2016 average of around 228,000 ha. [...]
The US has also experienced an exceptional fire season with California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming all experiencing severe fires, with the burned area totalling an estimated 324,000 ha so far. [...]
What might now be considered high wildfire years like 2017 are likely to become more common in the future and this will inevitably stretch the existing institutional and infrastructural resources in place to manage them — resources that have already been shown to be inadequate this year in many places. There will be many lessons from this fire season that could be used to guide adaptation planning. Climate change is only one of the factors driving increased risk from wildfire, but it may already be facilitating fire in regions where it was previously rare and small in scale, such as Greenland. Earth-monitoring efforts [...] as well as on the ground research seem to be ever more valuable resources as we try to manage the direct and indirect risks that changing wildfires pose to people and the environment. [...]


Nature Climate Change, Vol. 7, No. 11. (November 2017), pp. 755-755, https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate3432 
Key: INRMM:14472259

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