Canada is currently dealing with an unprecedented wildfires season. Starting in March 2023, mega wildfires have spread across eleven provinces and territories, causing destruction in their path. Notably, these wildfires have shattered all previous records, surpassing the combined area burned in previous years.
The consequences have extended beyond Canada alone. In fact, the smoke plumes traveled as far as Europe, triggering air quality alerts in the United States. With authorities recording over 3,000 wildfires and scorching about 8.1 million hectares of land, urgent action is needed to address root causes and enhance fire management.
In 2021, mega wildfires of unprecedented proportions ravaged Siberia. Extreme heat waves attributed to climate change primarily fueled these fires. The region hit hardest was Yakutia, located thousands of miles east of Moscow and known for its harsh winters. Since late spring, these fires had been ongoing. Yakutia struggled with containing the infernos due to lacking the necessary resources. Authorities declared a state of emergency, estimating coverage of approximately 1.5 million hectares. The region was blanketed by thick smog, blocking out the sun. Dry summers since 2017 and record-breaking temperatures caused Siberia’s normally warm summers and forest fires to reach an unprecedented scale.
The Dixie Fire raged through multiple counties in California, including Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama. Named after Dixie Road, near its origin in Butte County, it ignited on July 13, 2021, near Cresta Dam in the Feather River Canyon, persisting until October 25, 2021. Impressively, it covered 389,837 hectares, securing the title of California’s largest individual wildfire ever documented and the second-largest overall.
Numerous small towns and communities, such as Greenville, Canyondam, and Warner Valley, suffered significant damage from the Dixie Fire. Its impact spread extensively, with the fire’s smoke causing unhealthy air quality across the Western United States. The smoke’s reach even extended to Utah and Colorado. Remarkably, firefighting efforts for the Dixie Fire incurred an unprecedented cost of $637.4 million, establishing it as the most expensive wildfire in U.S. history in terms of firefighting expenses.
In 2021, Turkey experienced its most severe wildfire season. Over 200 wildfires consumed forests in the Mediterranean Region, with the fires starting in Manavgat, Antalya Province. These wildfires released approximately 303 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, equivalent to a year’s emissions from Denmark. The scorched area in Turkey covered 139,503 hectares, nearly matching London’s size. Fueled by strong winds, the fires caused casualties and home destruction.
The 2020 Australian bushfires left a historic impact on wildlife. Sweeping through southeastern Australia, they consumed 42 million acres, destroyed buildings, and claimed dozens of lives. Wildlife also suffered, with 3 billion animals lost, including 61,000 koalas. The wildfires were fueled by extreme heat and dryness in late 2019 and early 2020. Notably, climate data revealed that Australia experienced its hottest and driest year on record, with 2019’s mean temperature surpassing the average by 1.52°C, marking the warmest since 1910. In fact, January 2019 became Australia’s warmest recorded month, while rainfall dropped to 40% below average, reaching a low last seen in 1900.
The 2018 European heat wave caused deadly mega wildfires in Greece’s Attica coastal areas in July. As a result, these Mati fires tragically took 104 lives, ranking as the second-deadliest wildfire event of the 21st century. Numerous residents, including those in Kokkino Limanaki and Mati, needed evacuations and rescues. Tragically, the seafront discovered 26 bodies, seemingly embracing in their final moments. Additionally, the wildfires affected over 4,000 residents, leading Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to declare a state of emergency and national mourning. Consequently, the incident gained global support, and later, authorities arrested a man for negligently starting the fire.
During the summer of 2014, devastating mega wildfires occurred in the Northwest Territories, covering an area of approximately 442 square miles (1.1 billion square kilometers) in northern Canada. Among the 150 fires, 13 were attributed to human causes. Consequently, the resulting smoke triggered air quality warnings both nationwide and in the US. Impressively, visibility of the smoke extended as far as Portugal in western Europe. Moreover, the fires left a trail of destruction, completely decimating nearly 8.5 million acres (3.5 million hectares) of forest. Due to this, the government faced a substantial financial burden, spending a staggering US$44.4 million on firefighting operations. Significantly, this wildfire event stands as one of the most severe recorded in the region in the past three decades, ultimately causing devastating consequences for the Northwest Territories.
In August 2010, Bolivia faced a devastating wildfire outbreak that impacted its Amazon region. More than 25,000 mega wildfires ravaged an area of approximately 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares). Consequently, the resulting thick smoke led to the suspension of numerous flights and prompted the government to declare a state of emergency. This situation arose due to the fires being caused by a combination of intentional land clearing by farmers and dry vegetation resulting from the severe summer drought. As a result, these forest fires were among the most severe that Bolivia had encountered in nearly three decades.
The Black Saturday bushfires, which struck the Australian state of Victoria around February 7, 2009, were a devastating series of fires. Occurring under extreme weather conditions, they tragically took 173 lives, making them Australia’s deadliest bushfire disaster. Many were left homeless, and as many as 400 individual fires were documented on that infamous day, now called Black Saturday. In response, the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, led by Justice Bernard Teague, was formed to investigate the events, considering it one of the country’s worst bushfire tragedies.
The fire season of 2004 in Alaska set a grim milestone as the most devastating in the state’s history, in terms of the vast area consumed by flames. Over 6.6 million acres (2.6 million hectares) of land were ravaged by a staggering 701 fires. Lightning strikes accounted for 215 of these fires, while human activities sparked the remaining 426. The summer of 2004 was unusually warm and wet compared to the typical climate of interior Alaska, leading to an unprecedented number of lightning strikes. Following months of lightning activity and rising temperatures, an abnormally dry August fueled the fires, which persisted throughout September.