Unquestionably, the global wildfire situation is getting worse due to climate catastrophes and changes in land use.
The Western US, northern Siberia, central India, and eastern Australia are already seeing significantly more fires, and the UN predicts that by the end of the century, intense fire events will rise by roughly 50%.
What is Wildfire?
A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that burns in the wilderness vegetation, often in rural locations. For hundreds of millions of years, wildfires have burned in forests, grasslands, savannas, and other habitats. They are not constrained to a specific continent or setting.
A wildfire, according to the WHO, is an unintentional fire that breaks out in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. Wildfires can occur anytime, anywhere, and are frequently brought on by human action or a natural occurrence like lightning. It is unknown how 50% of wildfires that have been reported got started.
Very dry circumstances, such as a drought, and strong winds both enhance the risk of wildfires. Transportation, communications, power, and gas utilities, as well as the water supply, can all be affected by wildfires. They also result in the loss of resources, crops, people, animals, and property, as well as a decline in air quality.
Causes of Wildfires
Three elements—oxygen, heat, and fuel—must be present for a fire to ignite. The fire triangle is what foresters refer to. Fire will go in the direction where one of these elements is abundant.
So, limiting one of these three factors greatly is the only way to put it out or regulate it. The primary factors that contribute to wildfires decimating hectares of land each year are as follows:
- Human causes
- Natural causes
1. Human Causes
Wildfires are started by humans 90% of the time. Every year, human carelessness leads to wildfire disasters, including reckless disposal of cigarette butts and leaving campfires unattended.
Other significant sources of wildfires include accidents, intentional arson, the burning of debris, and fireworks. The causes of wildfires that are attributed to humans are explained in detail below.
- Unattended Campfires
- Burning Debris
- Mechanical Mishaps
Smoking is the greatest cause of fires and deaths worldwide, according to an epidemiologists’ analysis of smoking-related fires around the globe.
According to the research, the cost of these fires in 1998 was calculated at $27.2 billion worldwide. Sometimes smokers forget to put out their cigarettes after they smoke.
2. Unattended Campfires
Camping is a fascinating activity, and I guess most people enjoy it since it allows them to spend time outside and interact with nature.
Unfortunately, individuals frequently leave lighted fires or combustible materials unattended while camping or engaging in outdoor activities, which might start wildfires.
To prevent wildfire catastrophes, it is essential that all lit fires and combustible objects be completely extinguished after usage. When it becomes chilly while you’re camping, you need a fire. If a campfire isn’t extinguished properly, it can ignite a wildfire.
3. Burning Debris
In order to prevent the buildup of trash, waste, and trash are occasionally burned to ashes.
After burning the waste material or rubbish, debris that burns slowly is what is left over. The heat from this slow-burning material has the potential to ignite anything and ignite a wildfire.
Humans utilize fireworks for a variety of purposes, including festivals, signaling, and illumination of specific regions. Birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s are celebrated with ferocious parties and fireworks.
Their explosive nature, though, can cause wildfires. One misplaced spark is all it takes to ignite a massive wildfire that will burn through hundreds of acres and cause severe damage. However, because of their gradual burning, the residual bits may end up in unforeseen locations and begin a wildfire.
4. Mechanical Mishaps
Vehicle collisions and machinery mishaps like gas balloon explosions can start wildfires. If the equipment is operating inside or close to a forest or a bush, hot and explosive sparks from incidents involving machinery or engines may cause severe forest or bushfires.
Some persons may purposefully set fire to a building, piece of land, or another piece of property. Around 30% of all wildfire incidents are motivated arson of property.
An arsonist is an individual who committed this horrific act. Arson experts have proven that many fires are started intentionally and that this accounts for about 30% of reports of wildfires.
So, arson significantly increases the risk of wildfires and can only be prevented if people refrain from acting in such a terrible manner. As soon as arson acts are observed, the appropriate authorities must be notified.
2. Natural Causes
About 10% of all wildfires are the result of natural causes. Wildfires brought on by natural causes, however, differ from one place to the next based on vegetation, weather, climate, and geography. There are only two primary natural causes, volcanic eruptions, and lightning.
- Volcanic Eruption
Lighting is a fairly common cause of wildfires. Although it’s a little challenging to accept this fact, experts have discovered that it’s a typical trigger. It’s possible for lightning to cause a spark. Power wires, trees, rocks, and other objects can occasionally be struck by lightning, which can start a fire.
Hot lightning is the name for the kind of lightning connected to wildfires. It strikes more frequently for longer periods of time but with lower voltage currents. As a result, lightning that strikes rocks, trees, electrical lines, or any other object that could start a fire usually starts flames.
2. Volcanic Eruption
During a volcanic eruption, hot magma from the earth’s crust is typically released as lava. Wildfires are then started by the hot lava flowing into surrounding fields or lands.
Largest Wildfires Outbreaks in the World
The top 12 historical wildfires are listed below along with the harm they did to ecosystems, metropolitan areas, and wildlife.
- 2003 Siberian Taiga Fires (Russia) – 55 Million Acres
- 1919/2020 Australian Bushfires (Australia) – 42 Million Acres
- 2014 Northwest Territories Fires (Canada) – 8.5 Million Acres
- 2004 Alaska Fire Season (US) – 6.6 Million Acres
- 1939 Black Friday Bushfire (Australia) – 5 Million Acres
- The Great Fire Of 1919 (Canada) – 5 Million Acres
- 1950 Chinchaga Fire (Canada) – 4.2 Million Acres
- 2010 Bolivia Forest Fires (South America) – 3.7 Million Acres
- 1910 Great Fire of Connecticut (US) – 3 Million Acres
- 1987 Black Dragon Fire (China and Russia) – 2.5 Million Acres
- 2011 Richardson Backcountry Fire (Canada) – 1.7 Million Acres
- The 1989 Manitoba Wildfires (Canada) – 1.3 Million Acres
1. 2003 Siberian Taiga Fires (Russia) – 55 Million Acres
Almost 55 million acres (22 million hectares) of land were burnt by a succession of disastrous fires in the taiga forests of Eastern Siberia in 2003, during one of the warmest summers Europe had seen up to that point.
What is regarded as one of the deadliest and greatest wildfires in human history is thought to have been caused by a confluence of very dry circumstances and growing human exploitation in recent decades.
Northern China, northern Mongolia, Siberia, and the Russian Far East were all affected by the fires, which sent a plume of smoke thousands of kilometers distant from Kyoto.
The emissions from the Siberian Taiga fires are comparable to the emission reductions that the European Union committed to under the Kyoto Protocol, and their impacts are still being felt in current ozone depletion research.
2. 1919/2020 Australian Bushfires (Australia) – 42 Million Acres
The devastating effects on wildlife caused by the Australian bushfires of 2020 will go down in history.
The severe bushfires ravaged New South Wales and Queensland in southeast Australia, scorching 42 million acres, obliterating thousands of buildings, displacing 3 billion animals, including an astonishing 61,000 koalas, and killing scores of people.
Late 2019 and early 2020 were Australia’s warmest and driest years on record, which had a significant role in the disastrous wildfires.
The climate monitoring organization’s data show that Australia’s mean temperature in 2019 was 1.52°C higher than average, making it the warmest year on record since records first began in 1910.
January 2019 was also the country’s warmest month on record. Rainfall fell to its lowest level since 1900, 40% below average.
3. 2014 Northwest Territories Fires (Canada) – 8.5 Million Acres
Almost 150 different fires started in the Northwest Territories in the summer of 2014, a region of about 442 square miles (1.1 billion square kilometers) in northern Canada. 13 of them were thought to have been brought on by people.
Air quality advisories were issued for the entire nation and the US due to the smoke they produced, which could be seen as far away as Portugal in western Europe.
A stunning US$44.4 million was spent on firefighters’ operations, and a total of roughly 8.5 million acres (3.5 million hectares) of forest were totally destroyed.
The Northwest Territories Fires were among the worst to be documented in almost three decades as a result of these terrible effects.
4. 2004 Alaska Fire Season (US) – 6.6 Million Acres
In terms of the total area burned, the 2004 fire season in Alaska was the worst ever documented. 701 fires consumed more than 6.6 million acres (2.6 million hectares) of land. Of these, 215 were sparked by lightning, while the remaining 426 were sparked by people.
In contrast to the typical interior Alaska summer, the summer of 2004 was exceptionally warm and wet, which led to a record number of lightning strikes. The fires that lasted into September were the result of an unusually dry August after months of this lighting and rising temperatures.
5. 1939 Black Friday Bushfire (Australia) – 5 Million Acres
The 1939 bushfires in Victoria, a state in southeast Australia, that devastated more than 5 million acres and are remembered in history as “Black Friday,” were the result of several years of drought, followed by high temperatures and strong winds.
The 71 fatalities made the fire the third deadliest blaze in Australian history. They consumed more than three-quarters of the state’s land.
Although the fires had been burning for several days, on January 13 when temperatures in Melbourne’s capital city reached 44.7°C and 47.2°C in Mildura in the northwest, the fires intensified, killing 36 people, damaging more than 700 homes, 69 sawmills, as well as many farms and businesses. Ash from the fires washed up in New Zealand.
6. The Great Fire Of 1919 (Canada) – 5 Million Acres
The Great Fire of 1919 is still regarded as one of the biggest and most destructive wildfires in history, despite having occurred more than a century ago. The Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan’s boreal forests were decimated by a complex of several fires in the early days of May.
Strong, dry winds and the wood that had been cut for the timber business led to the quickly spreading fires that, in a matter of days, destroyed an area of nearly 5 million acres (2 million hectares), destroying hundreds of buildings and taking the lives of 11 people.
7. 1950 Chinchaga Fire (Canada) – 4.2 Million Acres
The Chinchaga Forest Fire, sometimes referred to as the Wisp Fire and “Fire 19,” raged in Northern British Columbia and Alberta from June until the start of the 1950 fall season.
With an area of around 4.2 million acres burned, it is one of the biggest fires ever documented in North American history (1.7 million hectares). The absence of populations in the area allowed the fire to burn freely while also lessening the hazard to people and impact on buildings.
The enormous volume of smoke from the fires produced the famous “Great Smoke Pall,” an obstructive cloud of smoke that turned the sun blue and made it comfortable to see with the naked eye for nearly a week. Over several days, eastern North America and Europe may view the occurrence.
8. 2010 Bolivia Forest Fires (South America) – 3.7 Million Acres
More than 25,000 fires spread in Bolivia in August 2010, damaging a total of about 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares), especially the country’s portion of the Amazon. The government was obliged to cancel multiple flights and issue a state of emergency due to the dense smoke they produced.
A mix of fires conducted by farmers to clear land for planting and parched vegetation brought on by the severe drought the nation suffered throughout the summer months were among the causes. The forest fires in Bolivia were among the worst the South American country had seen in almost 30 years.
9. 1910 Great Fire of Connecticut (US) – 3 Million Acres
This wildfire, which was also known as the Great Burn, Big Blowup, or Devil’s Broom fire, raged over the states of Idaho and Montana in the summer of 1910.
One of the worst wildfires in US history, despite burning for only two days, strong winds caused the initial fire to unite with other smaller fires to form one enormous blaze that scorched 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares), or about the size of the entire state of Connecticut, and claimed 85 lives.
While being recognized for the harm it brought about, the Fire helped the government establish rules for forest protection.
10. 1987 Black Dragon Fire (China and Russia) – 2.5 Million Acres
The Black Dragon fire of 1987, also known as the Daxing’annling Wildfire, was possibly the deadliest forest fire in the People’s Republic of China and the largest single fire in the world in the previous several hundred years.
During the course of more than a month, it burned nonstop, obliterating over 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of land, 18 million of which were forests. Chinese media suggested that although the actual cause is unknown, human activity may have contributed to the fire.
The fire claimed a total of 191 lives, and it also injured another 250 people. Moreover, 33,000 or so individuals were left homeless.
11. 2011 Richardson Backcountry Fire (Canada) – 1.7 Million Acres
In the Canadian province of Alberta, in May 2011, the Richardson Backcountry Fire started. The 1950 Chinchaga Fire, was the largest fire incident ever. There were several evacuations and closures as a result of the fire, which destroyed almost 1.7 million acres (688,000 hectares) of the boreal forest.
Authorities claim that although the fire was probably certainly caused by human activity, extraordinarily dry circumstances, high temperatures, and strong winds made it worse.
12. The 1989 Manitoba Wildfires (Canada) – 1.3 Million Acres
The Manitoba flames are the last on our list of the biggest wildfires in history. The Canadian province of Manitoba is home to a huge diversity of landscapes, from the arctic tundra and the Hudson Bat coastline to dense boreal forest and big freshwater lakes.
Between mid-May and early August 1989, a total of 1,147 fires broke out there, the greatest number ever recorded. Almost 1.3 million acres (3.3 million hectares) of land were burned by the record-breaking flames, forcing 24,500 people to leave 32 separate settlements. The price tag to suppress them was $52 million USD.
Although there have always been fires in Manitoba during the summer, the 120 monthly average for the previous 20 years was roughly 4.5 times higher in 1989. While May’s fires were primarily blamed on human activity, the majority of July’s flames were caused by intense lightning activities.
How do wildfires affect humans?
The wildfire smoke and ash can be particularly severe for people who already have cardiac or respiratory conditions. Injury, burns, and smoke inhalation have a significant negative impact on firefighters and emergency response personnel. Beyond fatalities, burns and injuries can also come from wildfires and the smoke and ashes they produce.
Which country has the biggest wildfires?
Brazil had the largest number of wildfire outbreaks in South America in 2021, at around 184,000.
What is the most famous fire in the world?
The London Fire of 1666 (England, 1666)
From our discussion on wildfires, we have seen that humans are the major cause of wildfires. Even as we try to invest more in firefighting worldwide, let’s not look away from the fact that we should look for ways to avoid fire from being ignited in our houses and the outer environment.
Installing smoke alarms in homes would help massively, also setting up campfires far away from flammable, disposing of cigarettes appropriately, not smoking in non-smoking areas and also, keep vehicles off dry grass.
I believe if we can do these few in our quest to fight the fire before its inception, a lot of fire incidents would have been avoided.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.