Rising temperatures and worsening droughts mean that the world has entered an era of increasingly catastrophic wildfires.
“Unprecedented and devastating b
The situation is similar in Oregon, where fires have burned more than 1 million acres in recent weeks, erupting in places where they rarely burn and overwhelming firefighters whose tools and strategies are no longer sufficient to deal with the new wildfire paradigm.
Such firsts have become commonplace this century. The idea that a fire could spawn a tornado, as one did in Canberra, Australia in 2003, was so implausible that it took several years to convince the scientific community that it was not just a big fire whirl, but a category F-2 tornado. Many more fire tornadoes have occurred since then, including a major Category F-3 tornado that the Carr fire in California spawned in 2018. This year, for the first time, the National Weather Service issued a fire tornado warning for California.
Fires aren’t supposed to burn on the frozen tundra because it is too cold and wet. But Indeed, just as global warming has propelled the Arctic Ocean past a tipping point fires consumed 270,000 acres of tundra on the North Slope of Alaska for nearly three months and have since burned the tundra along Greenland’s ice cap in 2017 and 2019.
Bushfires in Australia this past fire season burned over 45 million acres and Arctic fires are releasing record amounts of greenhouse gases faster than anticipated.
Leading to a largely ice-free Arctic Summers in the coming decades, wildfire scientists say that rising global temperatures and worsening droughts mean that the world has entered a new era of megafires. Scientists say that wildfires are behaving in unprecedented ways and that the traditional methods of fighting them are proving inadequate to this new reality.
Wildfire scientists agree that the planet will experience more pyroCbs and fire tornadoes, and more large, destructive fires burning in places where fire has not been a frequent visitor.
We are now in a situation where even international cooperation — nations sharing wildfire suppression resources — is not enough. This is not the “new normal,” as California Governor Gavin Newsom and others have described it. There is nothing “normal” about the new fire paradigm that is setting in.
Decision-makers and the public continue to believe that if agencies put enough water bombers in the air and men and women on the ground, fires can be suppressed before they cause widespread destruction. But the best that firefighters can do when a megafire burns in hot, dry, windy conditions is to slow it down or steer it in another direction.
In an era in which global warming is now a major cause of the worsening wildfire landscape, this summer’s events have starkly demonstrated that business as usual is no longer viable.
Canadian author and photographer Ed Struzik