Perscribed Prarie Burn | Flint Hills Prarie, Kansas (Photo: © John L. Dengler)
Wildfires during this decade have been very intense and have only contributed more to global climate change. However, the wildfires of 2021 were unique from other fire seasons of the 21st century because the fires appeared in more abundance and were more challenging to fight off. Countries such as Canada, Italy, Greece, Algeria, Lebanon, Israel, and Argentina had fires that burned out of common control. Some of the fires in these regions inflicted devastating consequences that may not be reversible for many years to come.
How do Forest Fires Increase Climate Change?
There is always a fire of some sort burning in a part of the world (NASA,
2022). Wildfires are a significant factor that accounts for climate change. In fact, forests can be referred to by the term carbon sinks (Phillips, 2021). The reasoning behind this term is because the mass density of vegetation capable of storing vast amounts of carbon, in this case, trees, can be easily let out by a forest fire
(Phillips, 2021). This fortifies the idea of why forest fires contribute significantly
to carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, wildfires in 2021 were estimated to emit 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon emissions worldwide (Abnett, 2021). The number of emissions are only expected to grow (Abnett, 2021). The relationship between wildfires and climate change is a continuous loop, and human activities are only worsening the situation (Phillips, 2021). Certain logging practices, like wide-scale replanting, has its benefits. However, when practicing replanting, the trees themselves are vulnerable and capable of spreading fires more quickly because
of their identical ages (Phillips, 2021). Furthermore, fires play a significant role in the sustainability and health of an ecosystem. If too many wildfires are extinguished too effectively in a short period of time, the vegetation left behind will age and not allow new vegetation to take over (Phillips, 2021). This will increase the stakes of
a wildfire occurring.
Countries which Suffered Severe Fires (2021)
The 2021 wildfire season was caused by various factors, the most significant factor being the rise in summer temperatures themselves (NASA, 2022). Much of the media has focused on the 2021 fires in the Mediterranean. Since many people were affected by the fires in this region, this article will start with the countries that suffered severe fires in the area, followed by other countries in the world that the media may not have paid enough attention to. In Greece, Athens was almost at risk of going up in flames due to high summer temperatures and the surrounding fires in the suburbs (Smith, 2021). Temperatures in parts of Greece have been recorded to be over 46 degrees Celsius (Abnett, 2021). Most residents in Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, were ordered to evacuate after threatening fires engulfed many forests and settlements (WP Company, 2021). Much of Turkey’s southern coast have had the hardest hit by the Mediterranean fires of 2021. Thisregion of Turkey is known for its thriving tourism industry, which was hampered by the fires. More than 10,000 residents were forced to flee their already damaged homes (Sullivan, 2021). According to the Agriculture and Forestry Minister of Turkey, 77 houses have been burned, and over 2000 farm animals have died in the province of Antalya alone (Damon & Tuysuz, 2021). In late July, wildfires started to engulf large amounts of vegetation and land on the island of Sardinia, Italy (WP Company, 2021). Much of these wildfires were burning in south Italy, including Sicily and the Calabria region. According to firefighters, there had been 500 reports of blazes in one night (Sullivan, 2021). On August 9-10, 2021, in Algeria, wildfires killed 69 people. Since August 9, there have been 70 fires burning in 13 of Algeria’s northern prefectures. (Algeria: Wildfires, 2021). In July, wildfires spread rapidly in the Qubayyat region of Akkar in Lebanon. The rapidly spreading fire forced hundreds to flee their homes and killed a 15-year-old firefighting volunteer (Lebanon Battles Wildfires for Third Straight Day, 2021). In Israel, wildfires have gone to the point where they created immense air pollution over the city of Jerusalem (Israel battles huge wildfire near Jerusalem, 2021). The fires near Jerusalem have scorched some non-native vegetation and reviled ancient Palestinian farm terraces (Mansour, 2021) Stepping away from the Mediterranean, forest fires in Siberia, Russia, are becoming more abundant, with large swaths of land scorched and thawed because of climate change. Significant portions of Siberian forests contain carbon-rich peatland, and much of it was released in these fires (Hess, 2022).
This means that the carbon released will further contribute to more wildfires. Deforestation has also caused flooding in areas that had never experienced such an incident (Hess, 2022). During August, many fires in Northwestern Ontario, Canada, reached their climax; however, most fires were under control by the end of August. (Della-Mattia, 2021) As a result, hundreds of Indigenous from
the Wabaseemoong IndependentNations fled to London, Ontario, to wait for the fires to subside (Ismail, 2021). Fires have destroyed over 80,000-90,000 hectares of land in Patagonia, Argentina. The fires started in December 2021 and continued into January 2022. The Argentinian government confirmed that the Patagonian fires were mainly caused by climate change (Chambers & Blackman, 2022). During November 2020-June 2021, India had around 21,487 fires. Much of the fires were burning in India’s north-central states, with Uttarakhand having a 177.96% increase in forest fires compared to November 2019-June 2020 (Pandey, 2022).
Impact on Society
The 2021 wildfire season impacted the societies that endured the fire; however, many impacts can also be associated with any wildfire. In terms
of infrastructure, wildfires corrupt electricity, and telephone lines, block
sections of roads and railways and damage many homes, facilities, and industries (Social impact of large-scale forest fires, 2016). In developing countries or countries with unstable economies, wildfires such as those of 2021 have posed severe challenges. Turkey's tourism industryhas been corrupted by the wildfires and the ongoing pandemic (Khalid, 2021). Furthermore, the country's agricultural sector in Turkey's southern coastal provinces has been hit hard. (Khalid, 2021). Additionally, wildfires killed much livestock and left much of the soil infertile (Khalid, 2021). In Greece, most residents on the island of Evia had to flee their homes in the wildfire season of 2021 (Becatoros, 2021). The blazes had burned over 50,900 hectares of land on the island (Becatoros, 2021). For anyone who finds their homes scorched after a fire, feelings of anger, sadness, and pain would overcome them. In the U.S, it is estimated that in most cases, rebuilding an entire home would be necessary, which would cost between $260,000-$710,000; however, damages would cost $50 per sq foot and $100 per sq foot and higher if the sq ft is two stories or higher (Martinez, 2022). Furthermore, in the U.S, the total wait time for a house damaged by a fire can range from several weeks to several months (Rodriguez-Zaba, 2022).
Unanticipated evacuations can lead to traumatic experiences for some people, which makes wildfires inflict harmful physical and mental health conditions (Wildfires, water, and our health, 2019). Examples of a wildfire's impact on mental health are the panic of evacuation, the sight of devastation, and the stressful environment in a community shelter or crowded refugee (When wildfires strike: Climate Atlas of Canada, 2019). In terms of physical health, the air pollution caused by fires can decrease lung function and increase the chances ofheart failure and premature death (Wildland Fire Research: Health Effects Research 2022). These are just some of the most common impacts of society's wildfires and the 2021 wildfire season.