Tuesday 10 December 2019

"Burn baby burn, when are we gonna learn?" 2019 was the year when country-size fires became the new normal around the entire planet!

Credit, EPA
As I write this post, Sydney, Australia’s biggest city with a population of over five million people is suffering its worst pollution ever as smoke, caused by Australia's record-breaking wildfire season blankets the city turning it into a “gas chamber.” The smoke has caused a huge spike in respiratory illnesses along with the cancellation of outdoor sporting and leisure activities. Sydney is quite literally under siege, surrounded by huge wildfires leaving a chief firefighter to claim the fires can only be extinguished by flooding rains, (rains are not expected until late January). The fires which have reached the Greater Sydney area at the time of me writing this post have scorched almost one million acres and to make matters worse a nationwide heatwave has pushed the mercury to 45 deg C, 113 deg F.

Wildfires dominated 2019, the first week of December, another Australian heatwave when temperatures reached an incredible 49 Deg C, 121 deg F causing petrol pumps to seize up, sparked wildfires over numerous towns resulting in the evacuation of thousands of residents. At the same time, massive wildfires in Chile caused by extremely high temperatures and strong winds had killed two and destroyed almost 50,000 acres of land. In May 2019 more than 200 fires surrounded Mexico City causing dangerously high levels of ash particles and ozone, again resulting in a spike in respiratory illnesses, see the picture below. In June, Spain, Portugal and Italy suffered massive wildfires as an "enormous" reservoir of warm air drawn from northern Africa caused temperatures to hit 45 deg C, 113 deg F.

Mexico City smog

Incredibly, in July, huge swathes of the Arctic was ablaze, northern Siberia, northern Scandinavia, Alaska and Greenland were engulfed in flames, which was blamed on a heatwave. Russia declared a state of emergency in two regions of Siberia when flames destroyed an area the size of Belgium. The fire would eventually destroy an area the size of Denmark, see the video below. In August, Peru was the latest country to suffer horrendous wildfires after more than 22,000 hectares (54,363 acres) of forest were torched due to drought. Also in August, more than a thousand firefighters battled wildfires in Greece, Evia north of Athens. 

But what happened next was something which caused the entire population of the globe to sit up and take note. Wildfires in the Amazon rainforest hit a record number of more than 72,000 fires, an increase of 83% compared to 2018, according to a report by the Brazilian space research centre (INPE). As the Amazon rain forest burned, global concern rose, the lungs of our world, the Amazon basin which produces almost a quarter of the planet's oxygen was causing anxiety among world leaders, the French President Emmanuel Macron claimed the wildfires are an international crisis. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. 

By September, the attention had turned to Asia. The number of Indonesians suffering respiratory problems caused by smoke from forest and peatland fires had spiked to alarming numbers and was blanketing parts of Borneo and Sumatra. Data released by the Crisis Mitigation Centre of the Ministry of Health showed that a total of almost one million people had been suffering from acute respiratory infections. The haze had impacted air quality not only in Indonesia but also in Malaysia, Singapore and as far as Thailand and the Philippines. The smoke forced Malaysia and Indonesia to close thousands of schools, with the Indonesian government turning to desperate attempts including, cloud seeding, water bombing and using nearly 50,000 personnel to put out the fires.

We can’t write about wildfires without mentioning California. In September, Police Chief Michel Moore ordered the evacuation of 100,000 people as high winds, drought conditions and hot temperatures accounted for the so-called Saddle Ridge Fire along the northern edge of Los Angeles. Two million residents lost power after Pacific Gas and Electric turned off their power to prevent its equipment from sparking more wildfires. California’s biggest fire of the year was finally contained on the 7th of November, after 120 square miles (310 square kilometres) had been torched, however, on the very same day, a new horror show had erupted in New South Wales, Australia. Aided by gusty winds and 35 deg C (95 deg F) heat Australia’s worst nightmare had begun.


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