Wildfires are uncontrolled and unplanned fires that happen in forests, bushes, grasslands, or bushlands. Sometimes, people may use other terminologies like forest fires or brush fires to describe specific types of wildfires. Usage varies according to what characterizes the fire and its region. Wildfires are different from controlled burns, but it isn’t unusual for controlled burns to spiral into wildfires. Several factors, such as drought, heat, and wind, can cause wildfires. Some regions are also more prone to incidents like this than others. Here are some of the cities at the biggest risk of wildfires.
1. West Coast, California
In 2020, destructive and persistent wildfires burned over 4 million acres of land on the west coast of California alone. The fire eventually spread into Oregon and Washington. These wildfires have devastating impacts on the forests and the environment in general. In addition to the direct danger to life and property, the smoke from these fires was also harmful to public health.
Wildfires have been a longstanding threat to California. However, their intensity and frequency have increased over the past few years. Seven of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history have occurred in the last thirteen months. A 2021 report by the New York Times elucidated the reasons behind wildfires in California. Besides climate change, factors like downed power lines and smoke-generating fireworks, which people ignite, have started some memorable wildfires.
Also, more people are choosing to move to the urban-wildland interface, which is more susceptible to burning – increasing the danger of wildfires. The Santa Ana winds cause fires to burn from October through to April, and these fires occur closer to human populations. However, the government of California is taking proactive steps to combat the threat through structural adaptation plans and vulnerability assessments.
2. Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico has had an insane wildfire season in the last two years. Between February to July 2021, 365 fires burned 121,277 acres of land. In April 2021, the Three Rivers fire scorched 6,000 acres in the Lincoln National Forest, burning up a large portion of the grasses and trees in the scenic wilderness.
With the ongoing drought season in the western US states, the fact that wildfires frequently occur here isn’t all that surprising. The drought conditions weaken the vegetation, leaving them dry and flammable.
Unlike California, which is naturally prone to wildfires due to inherent factors within its landscape, scientists believe the dire drought, a foundational element of the New Mexico wildfires, is brought on by climate change and human activities. New Mexico has warmed about 3.3 degrees on average since 1970. A warm-up like this should take at least a thousand years.
The fires have continued unabated into 2022. In April 2022, the McBride fire destroyed over 200 structures and killed two people in Santa Fe. The Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak Fire became the largest fire in New Mexico’s history after destroying 900 structures. Unless the exceptional drought conditions fueled by climate change in New Mexico dissipate, there is no reason to believe that it is still not at risk of wildfires.
3. Yakutia, Siberia
Wildfires scorched swaths of eastern Russia in August 2021, and Yakutia took the hardest hit. This region has a reputation for being one of the coldest regions. The fires that burned in Siberia last year were reportedly some of the biggest wildfires in the world, surpassing even those in the United States. Northern Siberia, just like the Canadian Arctic, is warming up three times faster than the rest of the world.
The 2021 wildfires surpassed the record for 2012, which experts considered to be Russia’s worst fire year. 18.8 million hectares of land were destroyed by blazing wildfires. Most cities became encapsulated in smoke, leading roads and airports to be closed as residents breathed in smoke from three hundred different wildfires.
4. Pekanbaru, Indonesia
In this region, a weather phenomenon known as the El Nino weather phenomenon takes place. This occurs once every three to eight years. It produces severe droughts and creates ideal conditions for wildfires. The worst fires in Indonesia’s history were in 1997 and 2015 – both El Nino years. However, El Nino is just one cause of wildfires. Human activities like land clearing of oil plantations have been known to spark fires even though activities like this are officially banned by law. Most of the forest and land fires have resulted in early respiratory deaths—the WHO recorded eight deaths ranging from children to the elderly in the 2015 land and forest fires.
Shifting cultivation had been going on in Indonesia for centuries. However, it is one practice that triggers fires. Although most of the natives have their local techniques for curbing them, these fires can burn out of control sometimes. Peatlands play a prominent role in the outbreak of forest fires because the dry underground peat deposits provide an inexhaustible fuel supply. They release greenhouse gasses, and wildfires become very easy to trigger. The Indonesian government is doing its best to stop the incentive to start fires by not granting new licenses for oil palm plantations. Instead, it focuses more on boosting the harvests from the existing sites. Peatlands are being converted for agricultural use, and criminal prosecution now awaits those who engage in fire clearing.
It is important to note that these aren’t the only cities susceptible to deadly wildfires, but they’re among the most threatened. In the cities at risk of wildfires, the fire is often precipitated by mass pollution, years of greenhouse emissions, and diverse environmental problems. Forests serve as ecological shields from climate change. The destruction of forests is generally unfavorable to humanity because it slows down the fight against climate change. This is why world governments are investing more effort in reducing the risk of forest fires, especially in cities at the biggest risk of deadly wildfires.
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- ClimateCheck (1970) climatecheck.com/blog/wildfires-states-with-highest-risk-to-homes
- New York Times (1970) nytimes.com/interactive/2022/06/01/climate/new-mexico-wildfires.html
- The Moscow Times (1970) themoscowtimes.com/2022/08/01/siberian-wildfires-burn-3-mln-hectares-of-forest-since-january-state-watchdog-a78466
- Science (1970) science.org/content/article/indonesias-fires-are-bad-new-measures-prevented-them-becoming-worse