Flames of foul play
Climate change is causing wildfires to become more rife, rampant and increasingly destructive with devastating consequences. As the globe warms up, so too does the number of spontaneous fires, terrorizing landscapes, and scientists are quickly gathering evidence that these two facts are intrinsically linked.
The journal Science admitted that premature snowmelts, spring arriving early, and higher summer temperatures are resulting in longer and fiercer wildfire seasons, and this summer’s firestorm wreckage certainly conforms to their testimonies.
In California, as uncontrollable flames swept through the landscapes last month, lives were lost, homes destroyed. and a financial toll reached almost $45 million. In Spain, many homes, property and businesses were also ravaged by wildfires in July.
Almeria Sierras scorched by flames. Photo by Gabrielle Pickard
Two years ago, blazes similar to the ones California has recently suffered roared through Southern California, causing analysts to then assert that the fires are consistent with climate change. Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service, believes patterns in the behavior of catastrophic fires can be directly linked to global warming. Neilson commented on Science Daily:
Can the climate be blamed. Photo by Gabrielle Pickard
A study carried out by Neilson and other researchers led them to predict that the rising temperatures combined with increasing carbon dioxide levels would result in larger and more frequent catastrophic fires in the west of America. Explaining how global warming can initiate these tragedies, the professor continued:
“As the planet warms, more water is getting evaporated from the oceans and all that water has to come down somewhere as precipitation. That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and the creation of a tremendous fuel load. But the warmth and other climatic forces are also going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source during these periods, the fires can just become explosive.”
Finca Listonero after this July's fires. Photo by Gabrielle Pickard
Perched high on an isolated shelf in Spain’s Sierra de Cabrera, the trinkets and treasures hung upon every quirky cranny in Finca Listonero made the 300-year-old converted farmhouse every bit as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside. But this “jewel amongst the desert” has been reduced to a heart-rending heap of rubble, whose charms have been replaced by charcoal.
Climate change is expected to increase areas burnt by wildfires by 175% by 2050.
Wildfire seasons in Western America have been extended by 78 days.
The length of the burns has increased from 7.5 days per 1000 hectares to 37.1 days and is a response to a 0.87 degrees Celsius rise in temperature.
(Statistics taken from Gist.org)
Suffering from a prolonged period of drought, Matthew Edwards and his partner Carol Vanmosel, the proprietors of Finca Listonero, welcomed the heavy grey sky that hung unusually overhead, backed up by an equally favorable weather forecast that predicted rain. But when the thunder storm finally arrived, it took just an instant for a bolt of lightning to strike the land and ignite it into flames, with devastating consequences. The rain never came, albeit a few drops, which were not enough to rescue the couple’s livelihood from ruin.
Prioritizing the larger urbanizations and having to cover an area of 4,000 hectares, it took the firemen five hours before they finally arrived at the secluded hotel, by which time the damage had already been done. Although many other residents and local authorities believe the fire was started maliciously, Matt Edwards is doubtful that arsonists caused the blaze and believes it was ignited by a bolt of lightning. Mr. Edwards told RT:
“There are accusations flying around about how the fire began, like the flames were seen two hours before the bolt of lightning struck, but to be honest there are just too many discrepancies to these stories. With how hot it is been here this summer, the weather has to be the only offender.”
Matthew Edwards devastated by the fire. Photo by Gabrielle Pickard
Judging by the summer’s shattering blazes, Neilson’s remarks to sciencedaily.com two years ago that, “In the future, catastrophic fire such as those in California may simply be a normal part of the landscape,” seem to bare some truth, not only in America, but in Europe as well. Whilst more research has been carried out and literature written examining the effects global warming is having on wildfires in California, the same life-devastating experiences in countries like Spain are less well-documented. Whilst the actual starting of a wildfire is often an ambiguous guess, ranging from a naïve tourist throwing a cigarette out of the window, to a malicious arsonist out for revenge, the spread and impact of the blazes are less disputable. As the warming climate encourages wildfires to thrive by aiding ignition and spurring them to spread, it is the likes of Matt Edwards and Carol Vanmosel, who describe this summer’s experiences as “a form of grief”, who are the real victims of a tragedy that could have arguably been prevented, if it were not for man’s destructive footprint on the planet.
Gabrielle Pickard for RT