In Focus
A firefighter tries to extinguish a wildfire burning at the industrial zone of the city of Volos in central Greece, July 26, 2023. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis

Wildfires in a warming world

Published: August 03, 2023

In many parts of the world - from the holiday islands of Greece to the more temperate forests of Canada - wildfires are becoming more frequent and severe as the Earth's climate heats up, creating the conditions for fires to take hold and spread out of control.

Climate change exacerbates wildfire risk because it leads to higher temperatures and a drier landscape, along with changes in wind, rainfall and lightning patterns, researchers say. In turn, emissions from wildfires - which cause trees to release the carbon they store - fuel global warming.

This increase in wildfires worldwide is costing societies and economies dear in the form of rocketing financial losses from destroyed property, deaths and health issues linked to smoke and air pollution, and harm to ecosystems and wildlife.

Many countries, including richer ones like the United States, are struggling to find the firefighters and equipment they need to help contain the threat as the stress of the job surges.

But there are ways to reduce the risk of forest blazes and to better prepare for them when they do break out. Measures include carrying out controlled burns to clear flammable vegetation, changing planning rules to keep homes out of high-risk areas, and developing more advanced wildfire monitoring and early warning systems.

With the danger becoming more acute, experts are urging governments to shift from managing wildfires to preventing them, in a bid to keep us all safer.