How climate change impacts extreme fires throughout the world


Wildfires have devastated communities around the world.

The raging inferno on the island of Maui has claimed 96 lives so far as more than 1,100 firefighters battle a blaze in Odemira, Portugal.

This comes shortly after thousands of Britons had to flee the Greek island of Rhodes when a bushfire engulfed the island.

At first glance, forest fires seem to be occurring more often, but is this really the case?

What is causing the wildfires? What are they exactly? And why do places like Greece, Portugal and Maui experience their wrath?

Read on below for answers to your questions…

Firefighter tries to extinguish a forest fire in the industrial area of ??the city of Volos, in Central Greece, on July 26

U.S. Coast Guard crews respond from the ocean to the Lahaina wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, on Aug. 9

U.S. Coast Guard crews respond from the ocean to the Lahaina wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, on Aug. 9

Personnel from the Protection and Relief Intervention Group (GIPS), which specializes in fighting wildfires, arrived to fight a wildfire in Reguengo.  More than 1,100 firefighters battled fires in the Odemira area of ??Portugal

Personnel from the Protection and Relief Intervention Group (GIPS), which specializes in fighting wildfires, arrived to fight a wildfire in Reguengo. More than 1,100 firefighters battled fires in the Odemira area of ??Portugal

What Are Wildfires?

A wildfire is an uncontrolled eruption that burns in a variety of terrain, such as forestry, scrub, and grassland. They are common in rural areas.

These infernos are known to have engulfed ecosystems, forests and grasslands for hundreds of millions of years, according to National Geographic.

They can also burn beyond the surface. These types of fires, coined as ground fires, occur when the ground is filled with organic material, such as plant roots, which ignite the flames.

Ground fires can fester for a long time until conditions align, allowing them to surface.

However, surface fires feed on dry or dead plants and are accelerated by parched grass.

Wildfires not only engulf nature, they also negatively impact the environment due to the massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases they release into the air.

The smoke from wildfire is filled with dangerous air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, PM2.5, aromatic hydrocarbons, lead or ozone.

The PM2.5 pollutant released from wildfire smoke can be particularly dangerous.

It can cause and aggravate diseases in the skin, intestines, kidneys, eyes, nose, liver, heart, lungs, brain and nervous system. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has also been linked to premature death in the general population ( WHO).

Wildfires can maintain the health of ecosystems by eradicating insects and diseases that harm the plants.

They also give way to new herbs, shrubs and grass to grow, creating new areas for animals and birds to live and eat.

The infernos can also clean the forest floor, clearing debris and putting nutrients into the soil.

The space created by the fire can also mean more room for sunlight, meaning trees and smaller plants can thrive better.

Some plants even need forest fires to survive. An important example is tree cones, as they need to be warmed up before they release their seeds.

Chaparral plants, such as chamize, scrub and manzanita, require fire before they can germinate their seeds.

Some organisms need a wildfire every few years, while certain species need a handful over a century for their species to survive.

A man watches the fire in the municipality of Odemira, August 7, 2023. Wildfires release pollutants that can cause premature death in the general population, according to WHO

A man watches the fire in the municipality of Odemira, August 7, 2023. Wildfires release pollutants that can cause premature death in the general population, according to WHO

The fire in Maui started early on Tuesday, Aug. 8, and threatened homes, businesses and more than 35,000 people on the island of Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said.  So far, 96 people have been killed in the fire

The fire in Maui started early on Tuesday, Aug. 8, and threatened homes, businesses and more than 35,000 people on the island of Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said. So far, 96 people have been killed in the fire

Is Climate Change Causing the Wildfires?

Wildfires have been occurring as a natural occurrence for hundreds of millions of years, according to National Geographic.

They can be set on fire with a lightning strike or a man-made spark, and topography can sometimes determine how fast they spread, as the fire is slow down the hills but quickly up the hills.

However, it is the environment that favors the conditions for a wildfire to thrive, and with climate change causing more droughts and also creating drier and warmer conditions, areas are becoming more susceptible to wildfires.

Since the past few weeks, extreme fires have erupted all over the world while facing severe weather conditions.

About 1,100 firefighters were tackling the infernos plaguing the area of ??Odemira, Portugal, as Hawaii declared a state of emergency over fires in Maui, which have claimed the lives of 96 people so far.

It was only a few weeks ago that thousands of Britons had to flee the fire on the Greek island of Rhodes.

And climate change plays a role. In the pre-industrial climate, the wildfires that engulfed Rhodes would have been at least 50 times less likely, according to The conversation.

Soil and plants dry out due to increasing temperature, depriving them of moisture. this lack of water leads to dry vegetation, making some areas more flammable.

However, it is important to recognize that while climate change provides a habitat for wildfires to thrive and burn quickly, this factor alone cannot cause a fire – a spark or lightning is still required.

In Greece, 23% of forest fires are said to have been caused by arson, while many started as a result of fires in scrub to remove unwanted vegetation or on farms to get rid of unwanted crops or to stimulate the growth of new plants.

It is unclear how the forest fires in Portugal started. However, Hawaii Governor, Josh Green and wildfire experts believe weather conditions in addition to the ignition contributed to the severity of the inferno on three islands of Maui, Hawaii and Oahu.

Maui had also experienced an “abnormally dry” drought in August US Drought Monitor.

Mr Green told CNN“It’s, in my opinion, a product of certainly global warming combined with drought, combined with a super storm, where we had a hurricane hundreds of miles off the coast, still producing big winds.”

A forest fire in the village of Trapeza, in Achaia Peloponnese, on July 23.  According to UNEP and GRID-Ardenal, the number of forest fires will increase by 50% between now and 2100

A forest fire in the village of Trapeza, in Achaia Peloponnese, on July 23. According to UNEP and GRID-Ardenal, the number of forest fires will increase by 50% between now and 2100

Locals and tourists alike were forced to flee as the fires spread, with a total of 19,000 people being evacuated from Rhodes.  If countries manage to stop warming at 1.5°C, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, a 40% larger area of ??the Mediterranean is still expected to be on fire

Locals and tourists alike were forced to flee as the fires spread, with a total of 19,000 people being evacuated from Rhodes. If countries manage to stop warming at 1.5°C, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, a 40% larger area of ??the Mediterranean is still expected to be on fire

Will climate change cause more forest fires?

Wildfires will become more common and more intense in the coming years.

If global warming passes the 2°C mark, extreme fire weather will occur more quickly.

Even if countries manage to stop warming at 1.5°C, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, a 40% larger area of ??the Mediterranean is expected to be on fire.

A report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Grid-Ardenal predicted that the number of wildfires will increase by 50% between now and 2100.

A change in land use and the climate crisis are driving an increasing trend in wildfires in areas where it was not a problem before, such as the Arctic.

According to the UNEP paper titled Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires, wildfires will increase by 14% by 2030, by 30% by 2050, and by as much as 50% by 2100.

As a result, UNEP and Grid Ardenal have urged governments to radically shift spending and invest more in forest fire prevention.

They have also stated that standards for the health and safety of firefighters worldwide need to be higher.