Forest fires grow in number and intensity around the world

Eight million hectares of land is destroyed by forest fires in Canada
Eight million hectares of land is destroyed by forest fires in Canada Copyright BC Wildfire Service
By Escarlata SanchezPhilip-Andrew Churm
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Intense forest fires are growing in numbers and size around the world in a growing problem being blamed partly on the abandonment of traditional farmland


Forest fires have become a recurring nightmare around the world and not only in summer. 

It is a worsening problem with the sixth generation of fires - or mega forest fires - which are more virulent and difficult to extinguish due to drought and global warming.

In Spain alone, in the first half of 2023, more than 65,000 hectares were burned.  It represents 55 per cent of all the burned land in the European Union.

The country leads the ranking by total area burned, followed by France with 21,273 ha, Romania with 19,909 ha and Portugal with 7,061 ha.

Abandoned farmland

The fires on the peninsula have destroyed mostly scrubland and open forest. The problem is related to the abandonment of traditional farmland and rural environments. 

Raúl Arias is a technician from the Forest Defence Unit of the Murcia region, in eastern Spain.

"Due to the climate change that we are experiencing and due to an abandonment of the rural world, which increases the load of vegetal fuel in the forests, it makes these fires more virulent and they occur more frequently... We are having great periods of drought," he explained. 

"The great challenge is prevention, even more than extinction. We must create these [breaks or gaps] on the ground and promote the use of the forest mass that we have to reduce these fuels."

In Canada, 8 million hectares have been scorched so far this year.  

Canadian fire fallout

The unprecedented catastrophic situation has some 400 active fires whose smoke and enormous carbon monoxide emissions have reached countries as far away as Portugal and Spain. 

The problem has global consequences for which cooperation is essential, according to Petr Olejsek, from the EU Federation of Firefighters.

"From the point of view of the European Union, it means that we have countries that have a lot of experience with forest fires, especially in Southern Europe," he said.

"But what we see now is that forest fires are taking place in Central and Northern Europe We need to cooperate not only at the time of the response, but we have to cooperate in the preparation phase. 

"We need to share information on best fire prevention practices. And it is very important to share specific capabilities: such as firefighters, aircraft, helicopters... because if you have to buy all that it would be very expensive. With which we have to establish cooperation between the countries."

Forests provide enormous benefits to the planet, which is why it is essential to prevent fires and propose strategies to reduce their vulnerability. 

Experts now propose the use of drones, satellites and sensor networks together with artificial intelligence techniques which can ensure the prevention and detection of fires is quicker and more accurate.

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