Wildfires can happen almost anywhere, often as a result of human carelessness, however, some areas around the world are more prone to wildfires than others. These may be due to climate, land use, and other factors.
West Coast of the United States
The West Coast of the United States is highly prone to wildfires, in particular California. In recent years large-scale wildfires have become a regular occurrence in this region. The August Complex wildfire of 2020 is the largest wildfire in California to date, followed by the Dixie fire which started in July this year and currently is still yet to be 100% contained.
The climate of the West Coast in particular California is very prone to wildfires due to the lack of moisture during the summer, vegetation dries out and provides the ideal fuel to burn. As climate change causes higher temperatures and increased drought frequencies, the perfect conditions are created for wildfires. A survey by the USDA Forest Service has estimated that 18 million trees in 2018, mainly as a result of drought. The dead and drying out trees, provide a major fuel source to burn during wildfires.
August Complex, August 2020: 1,032,648 acres of land burnt
Dixie Fire, July 2021: 963,309 acres burnt
Southern Europe – France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece
Southern Europe has always been historically prone to wildfires, due to its hot and dry summers. The areas that are usually at risk of wildfires are boundaries between wildlands and cities. Climate change projections and comparisons of the present climate with the past using the Canadian Fire Weather Index have suggested further increased risk in Southern Europe.
Saint-Tropez, France, August 2021: 3500 hectares of woodland destroyed
Euboea, Attica, Olympia, Messenia, Greece, August 2021: 125,00 hectares of forest burnt
Large-scale bushfires in Australia have been a regular occurrence throughout history even before European settlement. Aboriginals often used various techniques, such as the lighting of cool fires to reduce fuel loads and create fire breaks. This has even led to some plants evolving to survive bushfires, such as lignotubers that sprout after being burnt.
Droughts and extreme heat are nothing new to the Australian climate, the continent’s location makes rainfall highly variable throughout the year. Rainfall is influenced by El Niño, La Niña, and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). The IOD in 2019 was one of the strongest on record, causing cool waters near Australia, which lead to Spring 2019 being the driest on record. The extremely dry and warm weather created the “ideal” conditions for what became one of the most devastating bushfires in Australian history. Over 18 million hectares of land were burnt and over 1 billion wildlife were estimated to be killed.
The temperature of Australia has risen roughly by 1°C since 1910, leading to an increase in extreme heat events and dry conditions, such as the ones seen in 2019. Climate change has also affected and shifted different ocean and atmospheric patterns, causing weather conditions that may be abnormal for that time of year. A country that historically suffered through countless bushfires, may fear the worst has yet to come.
As climate change continuously impacts our planet, areas that were once least likely to be affected by wildfires are now more at risk. An example is, in 2018 Sweden experienced its worst wildfire to date with over 9431 hectares of land burnt, a 2000% increase compared to the average of 448 hectares between 2008 and 2017. This was mainly as a result of the long heatwave, with May and July 2018 being the warmest of each respective month ever in Sweden.