Displaying items by tag: wildfires
Large-scale wildfires are occurring more frequently across the UK. The challenges are enormous: in the middle of nowhere, two-metre-high flames moving faster than anyone can run. It can take days to bring a fire under control, an exhausting ordeal for even the fittest firefighter. An officer said, ‘Wildfires are unlike any other fire, they change on a minute-by-minute basis. One minute a fire is knee-high, the next it’s above your head. It is one of the most arduous fires our crews face. Left unchecked, they rage for miles across the countryside. If the wind changes direction the tail of the fire could become the head, and it spreads in the opposite direction. You can walk for an hour with hand tools wearing boots, jacket, and helmet, before getting to the area you are going to be fighting.’ Conditions are brutal. See also this week’s France article, ‘We are waiting for rain’.
Last week's wildfires across London showed lessons learned tackling rural blazes must urgently be applied to built-up areas after grass fires spread to forty houses and shops nearby. Prolonged dry weather parching gardens, verges and green spaces followed by temperatures of 40C sparked blazes normally seen in the countryside. 500 wildfires have been reported so far this year, compared with 237 last year. The group commander for Hereford and Worcester Fire Service said, ‘Everything is bone-dry and services need to recognise the risk they've now got. If they don't, then they're naïve. There are very urban services that think wildfires are low down on the risk list. I understand their need to prioritise resources, but there must be a review.’ A 2021 risk assessment report for the government found that two out of eight fire services made no reference to wildfires in their risk management plans.
On 24 July part of California had to declare another state of emergency and evacuate over 6,000 people as the largest active wildfire in the USA rapidly spread near Yosemite National Park (home to some of the largest and oldest sequoia trees in the world). The Oak Fire started two days earlier but the explosive behaviour of the fire meant firefighters struggled to control it. The state of emergency allows access to federal help. By 27 July the wildfires grew to 18,824 acres with 36% containment, but the northward direction of the wind was taking it into the Sierra National Forest - no longer in the direction of Yosemite. The scale of the blaze marks an ominous start to California's wildfire season. Pray for the families and business owners of 100 destroyed structures and for the safety of the 1,000 structures being threatened.
All week Europe has been battling wildfires fuelled by soaring temperatures in Portugal, France, Turkey and Spain. Pray for 3,500 Portuguese firefighters battling dozens of blazes in record-breaking temperatures. Pray for the 600 people in Leiria who were forced out of their homes, and over 3,000 who were evacuated in Turkey. Pray for devastated people like 77-year-old Adelino, a Portuguese farmer who said, ‘Everything burned. It looked like the end of the world.’ Pray for Spanish farmers who have lost over 70,300 hectares. Pray for 1,000 French firefighters trying to control two major wildfires. 4,000 hectares have already burned in southwest France.
Joe Biden has declared New Mexico a disaster area. A wildfire has torched 250 square miles (647 square kilometres) over recent weeks. Firefighters slowed the advance of the largest wildfire in the USA as heavy winds relented on 4 May. Biden approved a disaster declaration that brings new financial resources to remote stretches of New Mexico devastated by fire since early April. Representative Teresa Fernandez announced this declaration during a briefing by the Forest Service about containing the sprawling wildfire in high alpine forest and grasslands at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains. Aeroplanes and helicopters are dropping fire retardant as ground crews clear timber and brush to starve the fire along crucial fronts such as the small New Mexico city of Las Vegas and other villages scattered along the fire’s shifting fronts.
Strong winds and hot weather are making it difficult to quell two fires in Aude and Vaucluse, causing the evacuation of 130 people. 300+ hectares have been burnt, in new breakouts injuring 132 firefighters. Forest fires covering 210 hectares have hit the south of France as a 7,000-hectare blaze near Saint-Tropez continues. People have died and others are missing in the blazes. On 17 August a fire restarted overnight in Beaumes-de-Venise, fanned by strong winds. Over 1,000 firefighters tackled a blaze in Var, where a man died in his house. A woman is reported missing after calling her family while surrounded by fire. Blazes have erupted in Bizanet and Narbonne, with 70-80kph wind gusts threatening more outbreaks.
The Dixie Fire is the largest of nearly 100 major wildfires burning across a dozen western US states, including Alaska. Two mountain communities were incinerated, and a utility company blacked out 51,000 customers to prevent new blazes. Two weeks after the fire destroyed Greenville, the Caldor Fire a few miles southeast exploded and ravaged Grizzly Flats, a forest community of around 1,200 people, destroying more than 50 homes. Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in El Dorado County. Both fires grew by tens of thousands of acres in two days. Numerous resources were put into the Susanville area, with 18,000 people. Residents were warned to be ready to evacuate. By 19 August over 2.4 million acres were burned in 104 large fires and complexes in twelve states, involving over 25,000 wildland firefighters and support personnel.
The smoke plume of California’s Dixie Fire (the largest in US history) is so thick, only the red light of the sun can pierce the smoke particles, in a scene that looks like Mars. Over a hundred other large fires are raging elsewhere in the USA. Greece has been fighting the worst blazes in Europe amid blistering temperatures, leaving dozens in hospital. Their firefighting resources are strained, exhausted, and needing help; twenty countries including the UK recently sent reinforcements. Turkey’s blazes have swept through pine forests for two weeks. Fires rage in southern Italy, with Sicily and Sardinia among the regions hardest hit and hundreds evacuated. British Columbia has seen 5,800 sq km of forest burned since spring; 279 wildfires are currently raging. Smoke from Russia’s wildfires has reached the North Pole for the first time; smoke is drifting two thousand miles from Eastern Russia. See
‘We’re waging a battle of the titans! - and the hardest is still to come,’ said the Greek deputy minister for civil protection. Wildfires in Athens suburbs mean that residents must shut windows against thick smoke containing harmful particles. Over 150 houses were destroyed by a fire that surrounded a monastery and twelve villages on the island of Evia, one of over 100 blazes in the country. The mayor of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games, pleaded for help as flames threatened the site. Three monks from St David Monastery refused to leave. ‘We’re suffocating due to the smoke’, said one monk, describing flames 100 to 130 feet high surrounding them. Police will force them to evacuate if their lives are in danger. Villagers gathered on a beach to be evacuated on boats. Firefighters, helicopters and water-bombing planes were fighting the blazes. Blazes have also broken out in Turkey, Italy, Israel, Spain, North Macedonia and Albania: see
Several areas north of Athens were evacuated on 27 July as an out-of-control wildfire swept through a hillside forest threatening homes near Athens. Winds have dropped now but on 29 July the battle against wildfires continued throughout the night. 180 firefighters, eight ground units, 48 tenders, 2 helicopters and 2 aircraft are fighting the fire. Local municipalities have also deployed water tankers and construction machinery. On the first day of the blaze, six houses were burnt down and residents in eleven villages were told to evacuate their homes for precautionary reasons. At the time of writing four out of 13 regions are at ‘very high risk’ of fire according to the wildfire hazard map.