The first months of 2020 were punctuated with a record fire season in Australia, where at least 18 million hectares of land were burnt, killing 33 people and destroying thousands of buildings. In addition, by some estimates, as many as one billion animals may have been killed by the blazes. The impacts of these devastating fires, often in ecosystems less resilient to the fire cycle, include biodiversity losses, acceleration of climate change through feedback loops, public health considerations as well as billions of dollars in economic costs.
In recent months, fires have scorched parts of Brazil’s Amazon including wetland areas, following an increase in deforestation in the country. Meanwhile, about two dozen major fires are burning in California where 14,000 firefighters are protecting the U.S. state and its ancient Redwood trees, while southern Africa, parts of Asia and other regions in the Americas are also suffering from damaging vegetative fires.
Last year, after wildfires burned from Brazil to Indonesia, Russia and Africa, world leaders including French President Emanuel Macron, public figures and experts made calls to protect landscapes with better fire and land management practices.
Fire and haze
Farmers have used fire to clear land for agriculture for centuries, and it’s still the cheapest option for many. But whether they’re lit by smallholders, local elites or large corporations, fires can get out of control, destroying forests or creating a toxic haze that can blanket several countries for months.