Extreme wildfires are here to stay – and grow

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An aerial view shows a deforested patch of the Amazon near Porto Velho, Rondonia state, Brazil, September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

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  • Two new reports warn of a fiery future
  • Extreme wildfires are expected to increase by 30% by 2050
  • Fires burn more frequently throughout the night
  • More money should be spent on prevention, experts say

LONDON, Feb 23 (Reuters) – Peatlands in Indonesia, forests in California and now large swaths of wetlands in Argentina have all been ravaged by extreme wildfires, heralding a fiery future and the dire need to prevent them.

As climate change triggers droughts and farmers clear forests, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% over the next 28 years. And these are now scorching environments that were unlikely to burn in the past, such as the Arctic tundra and the Amazon rainforest.

“We have seen a sharp increase in recent fires in northern Syria, northern Siberia, eastern Australia and India,” said Australian government bushfire specialist Andrew Sullivan. editor of the newspaper. reportreleased Wednesday by the United Nations Environment Program and environmental communications group GRID-Arendal.

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At the same time, the slow disappearance of the cool, damp nights that once helped temper the fires also means they are becoming harder to put out, according to a second study published last week in the journal Nature.

With nighttime temperatures rising faster than daytime temperatures over the past four decades, the researchers found a 36% increase in the number of hours after dark that were warm and dry enough to sustain the fire.

“This is a mechanism for the fires to get much larger and more extreme,” said Jennifer Balch, lead author of the Nature study and director of the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Exhausted firefighters aren’t relieved,” meaning they can’t band together and revise their strategies for fighting a blaze.

The consequences of extreme fires are wide ranging, ranging from loss and damage to costly firefighting interventions. In the United States alone, the UNEP report says the economic burden of wildfires is $347 billion a year.

As California’s forests are on fire, the state government spent approximately $3.1 billion for fire suppression in fiscal year 2020-21.

Fires that have been raging since December in Argentina’s Corrientes province have wreaked huge havoc, killing wildlife in Ibera National Park, charring pastures and livestock and decimating crops including yerba mate, fruit and rice . Losses have already exceeded 25 billion Argentine pesos ($234 million), the Argentine Rural Society said.

The UNEP report calls on governments to rethink spending on wildfires, recommending that they spend 45% of their budget on prevention and preparedness, 34% on firefighting and 20% on recovery.

“In many parts of the world, most resources are spent on the response – they focus on the short term,” said Paulo Fernandes, author of the UNEP report and fire specialist at the University of Tras-os- Montes and Alto Douro in Portugal. .

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Reporting by Gloria Dickie; Editing by Katy Daigle and Jane Merriman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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