Huge wildfires ravage forests worldwide

AFP , Saturday 19 Sep 2020

The US West Coast is the latest area around the world over the past year to be devastated by wildfires, which have been fanned by global warming and often started for economic reasons.

Here is a snapshot:

- Brazil -
Between January and August, forest fires ravaged 121,318 square kilometres (46,841 square miles) in Brazil, of which 34,373 in the Amazon region and 18,646 in the Pantanal wetlands.

In the vast Latin American country, fires are commonplace, usually breaking out with the start of the dry season in June-July, and lasting until October.

They are often caused by drought, and the conversion of land for agricultural use.

In 2019 the spiralling fires in the Amazon led to an outpouring of emotion around the world and severe criticisms of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who has called reports on the Amazon fires "a lie".

- Argentina -
Ravaged by drought, the Parana Delta in Argentina, one of the largest and most biodiverse in the world, has been burning like never before since the beginning of the year.

The environment ministry says 95 percent of the forest fires are down to humans: cigarette butts, camp fires, land burnt by farmers to clear dry pastureland and regenerate it for their livestock.

A lack of rain, high temperatures and strong winds have contributed to their spread.

Fires have affected 11 Argentinian provinces out of 23, destroying some 120,000 hectares (296,526 acres).

- Australia -
Between late 2019 and early 2020, forest fires ravaged a drought-stricken area of Australia bigger than Portugal, killing more than 30 people and destroying thousands of houses. These fires also displaced or killed nearly three billion animals.

The biggest and longest-lasting bush fires in Australia's modern history, scientists have put them down to climate change.

The fires have upped pressure on Australia's conservative government to act against climate change and to reduce the country's dependence on greenhouse gas spewing coal.

Australia went through its hottest and driest year on record in 2019, with a record average temperature of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded in mid- December.

- Russia -
This summer Russia's airborne firefighters have fought at least 197 fires over the whole of Russian territory, representing in total more than 43,000 hectares, mainly in the region of Yakuty, in eastern Siberia.

They left another 380,000 hectares which were being ravaged by fire alone, under a government policy which consists in not fighting fires which are in Siberia's remote uninhabited forests.

After an outcry, after the fumes reached some of Siberia's most populous cities, President Vladimir Putin sent in the army to put out the fires as more than 3.2 million hectares burned.

According to the European Copernicus service on climate change, this summer's gigantic fires in Siberia were fanned by record temperatures, which were on average five degrees Celsius higher than usual for the season. Less humid soil also contributed.

They caused record emissions of greenhouse gas CO2.

According to Copernicus, some of them could have been the result of "zombie fires" which would have subsisted underground since 2019.

- Indonesia -
In Indonesia, vast fires in 2019 ravaged the forests on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, destroying 1.6 million hectares, generating toxic fumes and massive emanations of greenhouse gases.

Indonesia deployed tens of thousands of people and water sprinkling planes to deal with the first fires of 2020.

The fires are often lit on purpose to clear land for agriculture, like palm oil plantations, but then get out of control.

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