In the summer of 2020 there were about 300 fires and more than 300,000 hectares burned in southern Siberia, a large region where these fires should not be frequent due to its sub-arctic (also called subpolar) climate.

However, in these almost icy latitudes, global warming has been causing a progressive thawing of permafrost (frozen soil), and the lower humidity in the soils creates a scenario that is prone to fires in the summer season, when temperatures rise. In addition, in recent summers there had been an increase in the average temperature and this year they had risen 10 degrees more than normal in some Siberian territories.

In addition, in 2018 more than 20,000 hectares burned in Sweden, with a climate similar to that of Siberia and with a large forest area and an important timber industry. It suffered fires with totally anomalous temperatures, reaching 35ºC in Stockholm and a great lack of rain during the summer.

But the situation is even more worrying, in warmer countries, which saw increased drought accompanied by large waves of fires. Those of Chile in 2017, Australia in 2019 and California in 2020 stand out, although in this American state, historical figures have already been recorded every year since 2015.

In these areas the situation is similar: low rainfall, increased temperatures and dry soils. But in addition to the climate, we must add other possible anthropic causes such as the increase in urbanized areas and the abandonment of the mount. It makes that these fires repeat themselves year after year destroying bushes and young trees with ease and forcing the population to evacuate their homes. 

But without a doubt, the wave of fires that caused the most impact in the world occurred in the Amazon rainforest, mainly in Brazil, during 2019. In total, some 2.5 million hectares of jungle burned in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay, according to Greenpeace.

In addition to the shocking data of the razed surface, it is striking that fires of such magnitude occur in this area with a humid tropical climate. And this is due to the gradual increase in deforestation due to uncontrolled logging in scattered areas for agricultural uses. Since the Amazon forest mass is no longer protected against the dry winds in summer that help spread fire. 

And also the practice of agricultural burning to clean weeds is a cause to take into account in all these territories, since a percentage of these burns can get out of control, again due to the dry wind.

These practices continue to be carried out in many countries around the world, especially in South America, Southeast Asia and tropical Africa, such as the Congo or Zambia, which, without having a large forest area, also register a large number of fires.

NASA Geographic Information System on Forest Fires

Although climate change is one of the main causes that contribute to the increase in fires, there are other reasons that vary according to the territory, where fires can be more or less frequent or exceptional.
In recent years, fires are also frequent in southern Europe, and they no longer occur only in summer, but also in spring and autumn. Those in Portugal in 2017, where 64 people died, and those in Greece in 2018, where there were 102 deaths, were especially serious.

In Portugal, there was talk of urban and logging interests, eucalyptus was associated as an invasive and pyrophyte species, and the government promised to ban its planting. A very similar debate exists a little further north, in Galicia, where there is a large area of forest and a good part of it burns year after year.

Here the main cause is the abandonment of the rural environment. Throughout history, there were times of droughts and fires, but they were not so frequent since the rural environment was worked and the management and conservation of the forest was fundamental. Many resources such as wood, fruits, plants, branches, etc... were obtained from the forest, both for human self-consumption and for livestock.

However, the problem now is that in Galicia, as in Portugal, the eucalyptus monoculture has been expanding not only in the mountains, but near houses and roads, in areas where vegetation grows in an abandoned way and where previously there were meadows and farm fields.

But in addition, in Galicia many of the areas that burn each year are always the same and most of these are not eucalyptus surfaces, but scrub (shrubs, bushes, etc.). Some are even protected areas of environmental interest, with which, in addition to the favorable climatic causes for the spread of fires, urban and forestry interests also enter here for the requalification of the land.

For this, in addition to preventive management, territorial and forest planning is essential. The control of invasive species, avoid the excess of pyrophytes, and allow the compatibility of uses, establishing zones of forest and agricultural use, zones of environmental and tourist use, etc ... in mountain areas, to stop the exodus from the countryside-city / interior-coast and the consequent abandonment that continues to increase.

It is essential to protect our forests (the lungs of the Earth) and at the same time stop the abandonment of rural areas, to adapt to the consequences of global warming.

Can be done? There is no other.

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