How and why forest fires are burning Europe-World News, Firstpost
Bracing for record temperatures, Britain and France went on heatwave alert on Monday. This, after fires in Spain, Portugal and France forced thousands from their homes and left holidaymakers fleeing for their safety
Southwest Europe continues to battle devastating wildfires with sweltering temperatures and extreme heat forcing thousands of people from their homes and sending holidaymakers rushing to safety.
Britain and France went on heatwave alert on Monday, bracing for record temperatures as southwestern Europe wilted in scorching sunshine and ferocious wildfires devoured more forests.
This after Portugal, Spain and France saw armies of firefighters battling blazes and Irish forecasters predicting a taste of scorching Mediterranean-style summer temperatures.
But what is a forest fire? How do they occur? Let’s take a closer look:
What is a forest fire?
The United Nations defines a forest fire (also known as a forest, bush or vegetation fire) as any uncontrolled and unprescribed burning or burning of plants in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland, brush or tundra that consumes natural fuels and spreads based on environmental conditions such as wind and topography.
According to the UN, there are three main types of forest fires:
- Crown fires burn trees all the way to the top. These are the most intense and dangerous forest fires.
- Surface fires only burn litter and surface duff. These are the easiest fires to put out and cause the least damage to the forest.
- Ground fires (sometimes called underground or subterranean fires) occur in deep accumulations of humus, peat, and similar dead vegetation that become dry enough to burn. These fires are very slow moving, but can become difficult to extinguish or completely suppress.
How do they occur?
They can occur due to human actions such as land clearing, campfires, smoking, and even arson or environmental factors such as the sun, hot winds, dry weather, extreme drought, or lightning ( in rare cases).
Although the United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies wildfires as natural disasters, only 10-15% of them are caused by nature. The result of human causes, including unattended camp and debris fires, discarded cigarettes and arson.
According National geographic, there are three necessary conditions for a forest fire: fuel, oxygen and a heat source. Fuel is any flammable material surrounding a fire, including trees, grasses, brush, and even houses. The higher the fuel load of an area, the more intense the fire.
Air provides the oxygen a fire needs to burn, while heat sources help start the wildfire and bring the fuel to temperatures hot enough to ignite.
Lightning, hot campfires or cigarettes, hot winds and even the sun can all provide enough heat to start a wildfire, the report said.
How are they stopped?
According National geographicfirefighters fight flames by depriving them of one or more of the fundamentals of the fire triangle.
A traditional method is to extinguish fires with water and spray fire retardants. Firefighters also sometimes work in teams, often called hotshots, to clear vegetation from the terrain around a fire in order to contain it and possibly starve it of fuel. The resulting tracts of land are called firebreaks.
Then there is controlled combustion or backfiring – literally fighting fire with fire.
These remove undergrowth, brush, and leaf litter from a forest, depriving wildfires of a fuel source.
How dangerous is wildfire smoke?
According Indian Express, wildfire smoke, especially PM 2.5, can affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems of human beings. For those who already suffer from cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, there is a risk of flare-ups.
What’s happening in Europe?
It is the second heat wave to engulf parts of southwestern Europe in weeks. Scientists blame climate change and predict more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather such as heat waves and drought.
In its annual Frontier report this year, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said: “Trends towards more dangerous weather conditions for fires are likely to increase due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the concomitant escalation of wildfire risk factors”.
Spanish authorities have reported about 20 forest fires still out of control in different parts of the country, from the south to Galicia in the far northwest, where the fires have destroyed around 4,500 hectares of land.
The fires have already killed several emergency personnel since last week, most recently a firefighter who died Sunday night while battling a blaze in northwestern Spain.
In France, the situation has deteriorated in southwestern Gironde where firefighters have been battling to control wildfires that have devoured nearly 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) since Tuesday.
“A thermal apocalypse”
Forest fires in France have forced more than 16,000 people – residents and tourists alike – to decamp. Seven emergency shelters have been set up for the evacuees.
The French Interior Ministry announced that it would send three additional firefighter planes, 200 firefighters and more trucks.
Météo France is forecasting temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of southern France on Sunday, with new heat records expected on Monday.
“In parts of the southwest, it will be a heat apocalypse,” said meteorologist Francois Gourand. AFP.
France on Sunday placed 15 departments, mostly on its west coast, on red alert – the highest on the scale – while 51 were on high orange alert.
The chapel of a historic hospital in the south-east of the city of Lyon, the Grand Hôtel Dieu, offered refuge on Sunday to tourists including Jean-Marc, 51, visiting Alsace.
“We came back to admire the place, but we can’t leave, it’s too hot outside. We say a prayer in front of the fire! he joked.
French cyclist Mikael Cherel, taking part in the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Sunday between Rodez and Carcassonne in the south of France, described “very, very difficult conditions”.
“I’ve never experienced such a hot day on a bike. It really wasn’t a picnic.”
In Spain, firefighters managed to stabilize a forest fire that ravaged 2,000 hectares of woods and bushes in the southern region of Andalusia, regional chief Juan Manuel Moreno said.
The blaze started on Friday in the Mijas mountain range inland from the southern coastal city of Malaga and prompted the evacuation of around 3,000 people.
About 2,000 people had since returned to their homes and now that the fire has stabilized, Moreno said the remaining evacuees could follow suit.
A firefighter died from burns on Sunday while battling a blaze in Spain’s northwestern province of Zamora, the regional government said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed his “condolences and affection” to the man’s family and colleagues.
“There are no words to thank those who fight the fires without rest for their immense work. RIP”, he added in a tweet.
Sanchez is due to travel to the hard-hit eastern region of Extremadura on Monday, where various fires have been raging for days.
The firefighter’s death comes after a pilot died last week when his plane crashed in northern Portugal, and two crew members died in Greece when their helicopter fell into the sea.
Extreme heat also claimed the lives of two men in Spain over the weekend.
A 50-year-old man in Torrejon de Ardoz, just outside Madrid, died on Sunday after suffering heat stroke while out walking, local emergency services said.
And on Saturday, a 60-year-old street cleaner in Madrid died after suffering heat stroke while working the day before.
In Portugal, nearly the entire country remained on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, after hitting 47C – a record for the month of July – on Thursday.
Only one major fire was burning in the north on Sunday.
The fires killed two people, injured around 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land in Portugal.
“Risk to life” in the UK
In the UK, the Met Office issued a first-ever ‘red’ warning for extreme heat, warning there was a ‘risk to life’.
The Met Office said temperatures in the south of England could top 40C on Monday or Tuesday for the first time, leading some schools to say they will remain closed for next week.
Organizers of a four-day march in the Netherlands have canceled the first day of the mass event which was due to start on Tuesday due to extreme heat.
The mercury is expected to reach 38C in parts of the Netherlands on Tuesday.
With contributions from agencies