Wildfires – A Stark Reminder

As Britain experiences another searing heatwave, problems of a far graver sort are hitting Greece. Wildfires have been sweeping through towns east of Athens and thousands of families have had to evacuate their homes. Similar fires have been breaking out across the globe, and these pictures capture the sheer size of the blazes and might of fighting the flames.

As another searing heatwave hits Britain, many of us will be dreading that awful commute to work among sweaty armpits and sodden shirts. However, for some, the most uncomfortable part will not be the sweating in your seat, but the ever present reminder of global warming.

Due to the heat, countries such as Greece, Sweden, Portugal, the US and even the United Kingdom have experienced some of the worst and most damaging wildfires for some decades.


15 July: Due to the dry weather, about 80 wildfires have been burning in Sweden

Wildfires are usually caused by humans; 90% of wildfires are predicted to have been caused through negligence, like leaving a lit barbeque or flicking away a lit cigarette. They can be caused naturally, when sunlight ignites dry wood or grass in a forest, but this is less common.


At its peak, the fire on Saddleworth Moor covered an area of 7 sq miles (18 sq km) and burned for three weeks

Lack of rainfall and high winds can cause the severity of the fires to escalate quickly, making fighting the fires on the ground next to impossible, as Thomas Smith, assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) explains,

“Burning embers can travel quite far and start new fires that could spread for kilometres if they are big enough.”

When a fire burns on the the floor at a low level, it is not too dangerous for the forest, as the flames do not spread too far and can be easily put out. However, when the flames rise and develop what is a called a “head fire”, this is when the fire gets dangerous. The top of the flame reaches high and far and becomes very hard to put out, and escalates far quicker.


7 December 2017: A plane drops fire retardant near a home near Los Alamos Road in Murrieta, California



A strong wind blows embers in California

The fires become perilous when they reach towns and villages. Cars and houses become fuel to the fire, destroying property and endangering lives. The heat of the flames is so intense that cars don’t even need to be touched by the flames to set alight.


24 July: Burned cars are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati near Athens

The fires that terrorised the Saddleworth Moor in North West England were so persistent and hard to tackle because of the soil, not just the vegetation the fires could set alight to.

“This fire definitely did get into the soil,” says Dr Thomas Smith (assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science), “The moorland is made up of peat soil, which is carbon-rich and needs little oxygen to burn”, he explains.

“The fire gets underground and smoulders away…. It makes it much more difficult to put out.”

Problems are also caused by the huge, thick smoke which lingers after the fire has been out. Lung and asthma issues can be developed in the surrounding regions and fumes produced by burning plastic or asbestos inside homes are much more hazardous.


23 July: A road block is set up as smoke fills the air near Athens


25 March: Ruins of a house are out of bounds after a bushfire in Tathra, Australia

Different types of fires require different techniques to fight them and in the recent UK wildfires, they used beaters and water hoses to extinguish the flames.

But a technique widely used to tackle the huge fires in California last year is dropping water and fire retardant containing fertiliser from planes and helicopters, to try and stem the ferocity of the flames.


28 June: Firefighters tackle a wildfire with beaters on Winter Hill near Bolton, UK

Creating large clearings in forests is another effective method at stemming the pathway of the flames, as it removes the fuel for the fire to grow, however this is time consuming work and teams often run out of time to remove sufficient vegetation before the flames reach their position.


21 July: Firefighters create a firebreak in the Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park, California


1 July: A fire service vehicle is surrounded by flames as the Pawnee wildfire jumps across a road in California

The recent rise in wildfires has not been a coincidence either. Yes, wildfires are usually caused by human negligence, but the quantity and severity of them are caused by the dry land, which is a by-product of global warming. Although Mr. America, Donald Trump may not believe in it, the signs are unavoidable.

Heatwaves and wildfires should serve as a stark reminder of the global problem we all face today, and whilst tackling the flames is serving to fight one battle, the battle against the rising temperature of our planet remains battle number one.

We all seem to share a feeling of slight hopelessness and despair in the face of the climate change, stuggling to digest how we can personally affect such a vast, global issue. But little by little, bit by bit we can all make a difference, whether it’s getting the train and not the car, making an effort to recycle more effectively or cutting down on your meat consumption, little changes can make a big difference.