24 April 2008

April 2008 wildfire

April has been particularly active for wildfires around the globe. Many of these fires started as agricultural fires which subsequently escaped control.

Particularly hard hit have been southern Russia and northeast China. As of the 23rd, over 500 wildfires have erupted in three regions of Russia. As shown in the image, smoke plumes from these fires have traveled hundreds of kilometers, extending over the Pacific Ocean. Earlier this month, fires raged in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China. These have since been controlled/extinguished.

The Global Drought Monitor suggests that these regions have been undergoing a medium-term drought, exacerbating the fire danger. The unusually heavy snowfalls reported earlier this year in China have damaged a tenth of the nations forests, increasing fuel loads and ramping up fire danger.

The Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires has been 'smoked out' as a result of large pasture clearing fires. More pasture than normal is being cleared for additional soybean production, as farmers seek to capitalize on high commodity prices. A state of emergency was declared, a result of the reduced visibility from the smoke. Some 70 000 hectares have been burnt.

Widespread fire activity was also noted in SE Asia, near the Burma/India border and extending into Laos, Thailand and southern China. Most of these fires are agricultural in nature, but typically some escape into natural areas.

In the United States, a large 9 000+ acre (~4000 ha) fire burned near Fort Carson, CO. The fire took more than a week, and the aid of a snowstorm, to contain. A tanker pilot lost his life while battling the blaze. A wildfire near Big Sur, CA was also noted. While not especially large or damaging, the fire is notable for its timing; this region doesn't usually see fires until mid-summer.

The upcoming fire season in the north is off with a bang, with trends suggesting that the summer could see a repeat of the high levels of fire activity noted last year. Indeed, as global warming increases, increased wildfire activity is likely to be a consequence. However, we cannot unequivocally say these fires are a direct result of climate change at this time.


Image: Earth Observatory Natural Hazards

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