World News (Q2 2021)
Wildfire smoke harmful
Pollution from wildfires has a greater impact on people’s health than similar levels of pollution from other sources, according to a study published March 5 in the journal Nature Communications.
The study analyzed hospital admissions data in Southern California from 1999 to 2012 and found that air pollution from wildfires has a 10 times greater impact on health than a similar amount of pollution from other sources.
The 2020 fire season was the worst in California’s history, with 4.1 million acres burned, and five of the state’s six largest fires on record.
Melbourne experiences quiet season
The state of Melbourne ended its quietest fire season in a decade on March 31.
Cool and wet summer weather that kept wildfires in check was attributed to La Nina.
There were half as many brush fire callouts in New South Wales state this year than in 2020, the NSW Rural Fire Service said.
Fires burned 31,000 hectares this year compared to 5.5 million hectares during last season’s Black Summer.
Climate change increases U.K. risk
Dry conditions that put parts of the U.K. in the most severe danger of wildfires once a century could eventually happen every other year due to climate change, new research shows.
A study led by the University of Reading shows that parts of eastern and southern England may be at the highest danger level on nearly four days per year on average by 2080, compared to once every 50 to 100 years now.
In the driest regions, this could put habitats at risk for up to four months per year on average, the scientists found.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
According to Impact New Service, there is no coordinated strategy for wildfire in England, only a voluntary forum which does not have powers to set standards or guidance.
Alberta launches wildfire app
Alberta Wildfire launched an application in March for those who want to know more about wildfire in the province. The AB Wildfire Status app allows users to search for information such as fire bans and advisories, and select map layers that show fire danger ratings or even the location of mountain pine beetles in the province.
The app provides wildfire information in real time, in a one-stop shop format. By using the GPS function, users can instantly know if a fire ban is in place in their area or if there is an active wildfire nearby. Users can also get see the current wildfire situation with the home view, subscribe to forest-area notifications, and stay on top of emerging situations in areas of interest.
Data shows that mitigation efforts work
Property owners who clear vegetation from the perimeter of their homes or buildings can almost double the likelihood of those structure surviving a wildfire, according to a report by climate-risk company Zesty.ai and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
Zesty and IBHS studied more than 71,000 properties involved in wildfires between 2016 and 2019 to assess the relationship among vegetation, buildings, and property vulnerability.
Researchers leveraged a combination of computer vision and AI to analyze high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery of the properties that fell within the wildfire perimeter, which allowed them to determine what effects a property’s physical environment had on its likelihood of survival.
The analysis determined that buildings with a high amount of vegetation within five feet of the structure were destroyed in a wildfire 78 per cent of the time – a rate nearly twice as high as those with small amounts of perimeter vegetation.
Pacific Gas & Electric charged
A California prosecutor filed 33 criminal charges in April accusing troubled Pacific Gas & Electric of inadvertently injuring six firefighters and endangering public health with smoke and ash in a 2019 fire blamed on its equipment.
The nation’s largest utility denied that it committed any crimes even as it accepted that its transmission line sparked the blaze.
The Sonoma County district attorney charged the utility with five felony and 28 misdemeanour counts in the October 2019 Kincade Fire north of San Francisco, including recklessly causing a fire that seriously injured six firefighters.
Black Summer fires warmed the stratosphere
Smoke pollution from the Australian wildfires of December 2019 and January 2020 warmed the stratosphere by 1°C for six months, according to a study.
The Black Summer bushfires destroyed about 14 million acres of trees, brush and homes, and are estimated to have killed almost three billion animals.
Smoke from the fires reached a height of more than 20 kilometres and the flames sent 900,000 thousand metric tonnes of smoke particles into the stratosphere.
Researchers at Jinan University in China found that the fires resulted in enough smoke particle pollution to increase the temperature of the stratosphere over the southern hemisphere.
Europe experiences hottest year on record
Europe experienced its hottest year on record in 2020, while the Arctic suffered a summer of extreme wildfires partly due to low snow cover as climate change impacts intensified, the European Union’s observation service said in April.
Europe’s average annual temperature in 2020 was the highest on record and at least 0.4 degrees Celsius above the next five warmest years — all of which were in the last decade, the Copernicus Earth observation service said.
The winter of 2020 was the hottest on record, at 3.4 degrees Celsius above the average European winter temperature since 1981.
Wildfire smoke linked to skin disease
Wildfire smoke can trigger respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms from a runny nose and cough to a potentially life-threatening heart attack or stroke, according to a study in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
The research indicates that the dangers posed by wildfire smoke may also extend to the skin, the largest organ in the human body, and the first line of defense against outside threat.
The study found that during the two weeks in November 2018 when wildfire smoke from the Camp Fire choked the San Francisco Bay Area, health clinics in San Francisco experienced an increase in patients visiting with concerns of eczema and general itch, compared to the same time of the year in 2015 and 2016.
The findings suggest that even short-term exposure to hazardous air quality from wildfire smoke can be damaging to skin health.
California hires extra firefighters
California Governor Gavin Newsome on March 31announced he was setting aside more than $80 million in emergency funding for fire fighting in preparation for the 2021 wildland fire season.
Newsom’s office said the $80.74 million includes money to hire almost 1,400 Cal Fire firefighters; most of the funding will go toward crews building fuel breaks and defensible spaces in vulnerable communities before the peak of the fire season.
The money will provide for 1,256 seasonal firefighters through June 30, Newsom’s office said.
Lawmakers push for year-round crews
Senators and members of Congress in California have sent a letter to the Departments of Agriculture and Interior asking that wildland firefighters be available year round to fight out-of-season wildfires.
The lawmakers said climate change has made wildfires a nearly year-round problem.
Full-time wildland firefighters are needed nationwide, the lawmakers said, and to reduce wildfire risk and spread.