Why do large forest fires occur in November

Forest fires worldwide

Forest fires are one of the most natural processes in many regions of the world. But there is an extremely worrying downside of forest fires: Whenever forest fires occur too violently, in the wrong place, at an unusual time or too often, this is a sure sign that the ecosystem has been disrupted by human interference. In these cases, forest fires pose a serious threat to humans and nature.

The general rule: Worldwide, only about four percent of all forest fires have natural causes such as lightning strike. In all other cases, humans - be it directly or indirectly, be it negligently or deliberately - are responsible for the fire. The WWF is active against forest fires on almost every continent. Here you can see an overview of where forest fires occur and what special requirements the areas place on our work.

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For theAmazon basin, the largest rainforest area on earth, where forest fires are deliberately startedIn order to gain new agricultural land for growing soy or for grazing, for example, it is feared that the regional climate will collapse once the forest has been lost to a certain extent. The resulting drought combined with further forest fires will further accelerate the degradation of the rainforest.The Amazon rainforest would transform itself from a carbon reservoir to a carbon source. By 2030, 55 percent of the rainforest in the Amazon could be destroyed or severely damaged. This in turn would havesignificant effects on the global climate and global biodiversity - a vicious circle. Forest loss is currently almost 20 percent, and a further 17 percent of the rainforest area has been degraded by human interference.

Forest fires in the Amazon region are almost never caused by natural causes. Tropical thunderstorms are accompanied by heavy rains, so ignition from lightning strikes is extremely unlikely. The forest fires and the associated destruction of the forest can rather be traced back to the conversion into mostly agricultural areas. First of all, the rainforest is opened up by timber companies and the wood that is marketable is felled. The sunlight penetrates through the gaps in the canopy down to the ground, dries out the rest and causes the shadowy undergrowth to die off. This makes the remaining forest debris more susceptible to fire. Settlers followed suit on the roads that were built by the timber companies and began to clear the fire. Smallholders are mostly evicted and the land is initially used for cattle breeding. 70 percent of the total deforested area is pasture for cattle. The cattle breeders, for their part, are being pushed further and further into the Amazon by soy cultivation.

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The highest number of fires in the last 10 years was recorded in the Pantanal. The situation seems out of control. In August this year the fire had already reached an area of ​​1.8 million hectares - that is 12% of the entire Pantanal. And the trend is still increasing: In the first two weeks of September 5300 fire hotspots were measured, almost as many as in the whole of August (5935).

September will be the month with the highest number of hotspots in the Pantanal since surveillance began in 1998“Says Mariana Napolitano from WWF Brazil.

Protected areas - retreats for many threatened species - are also particularly affected. So the State Park Encontro das Águas is considered to be the largest jaguar sanctuary in the world, and is now more than 80% affected by the fires. Also the blue macaws, which are classified as "critically endangered" according to the IUCN, have lost an important retreat: the largest RPPN (Private Reserve of Natural Heritage) in central-west Brazil (with more than a thousand square kilometers), which serves as a sleeping place for this species and houses dozens of nests (natural and artificial).

Napolitano points out that even the surviving animals will have much less availability of food. In addition, the air and waterways are polluted - an additional problem.

In North America areForest fires natural phenomena that take place regularly. The forests of the western United States and the boreal forests of Canada depend on intermittent forest fires for rejuvenation. In the last centuryHowever, the intensity of the fires increased in many areas of the western United States, now threatening people and wildlife in the area. 2015 went down as one of the worst wildfire years in US history. 4.1 million hectares burned - the largest forest fire area since records began.

The majority of fires in the United States are man-made. Between 2001 and 2014, a national average of 85 percent of forest fires were triggered by humans. 15 percent of the fires had lightning as a natural cause - but this varies depending on the region. In some areas of the western United States, lightning strikes are the primary cause of forest fires.

Climate change is further exacerbating the situation and has been blamed for the surge in forest fires since the mid-1980s: The forest fire season is lengthening, frequent periods of drought weaken the forests and make them more susceptible to fires.

In Germany isthe federal state of Brandenburg was particularly hard hit by forest fires, with a focus on the pine forests south of Berlin. This particular forest fire hazard is explained by the climatic conditions:Brandenburg is the least rainy federal state. Its loose sandy soils, which hardly store any precipitation, are characteristic. Thea high proportion of pine of 70 percent increases the risk of forest fire additionally. Pine forests are particularly susceptible to fire because their woods are rich in essential oils and resins. Most forest fires in Germany are caused willfully or negligently by humans, negligently caused forest fires are mainly caused by campers, forest visitors or children. In 2014, only 6 percent of forest fires in Germany can be traced back to natural causes such as lightning strikes.

In most of Australia, forest and bush fires are natural phenomena.Every year, vast areas of land burn up in the tropical savannahs and grasslands of the northern part of the country. In the south of Australia, the fires are much smaller in terms of their area. However, the damage caused by the fires in the densely populated south of Australia is considerably greater than that in the largely deserted north. Even in the temperate rainforests of western Tasmania, where fire can hardly spread under normal climatic conditions, devastating wildfires broke out in 2016, threatening a unique fire-sensitive ecosystem.With climate change, the number of hot, dry days that are at high risk of forest fires will increase in South Australia.

Lightning as a natural cause can be responsible for up to a quarter of the fires in some deserted regions of Australia, but if you look at the whole of Australia, they play a subordinate role. 13 percent of the fires are deliberately started by arsonists, and another 37 percent are suspected of being arson - in total, half of the fires. Another 35 percent of the fire incidents can be traced back to negligence.

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In Russia especially those areMiddle and east of the country affected, where massive forest fires mostly rage in remote areas. Although several million hectares of forest burn up every year, these fires are hardly noticed.If, on the other hand, the densely populated western part of Russia around the capital Moscow is affected, as in 2010, the effects of the fires are much greater despite a much smaller area of ​​fire. In Russia, too, the overwhelming majority of forest fires are caused by humans. 72 percent of forest fires in Russia can be traced back to negligent or willful arson. Another 7 percent are caused by the use of fire in agriculture. 14 percent have other causes, such as flying sparks from trains or power lines. In contrast, lightning strike as a natural cause was the trigger for forest fires in only 7 percent. Only in the sparsely populated areas in northern Russia can forest fires often be traced back to lightning strikes. The forest ecosystems of Russia are largely adapted to the periodic occurrence of fires. In the meantime, however, forest fires are much more common. This has serious ecological consequences and leads to desertification in some parts of the country.

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Small-scale fires have existed in the Mediterranean region since ancient times. They are part of the natural dynamics or are used as an instrument for the management of natural resources.In the last few decades the number and extent of the fires have increased worryingly. It burns there every yearat least 50,000 times. The forest fires are almost exclusively - whether negligently or deliberately - the work of humans. Real estate speculation and land reclamation, but also hunting and grazing are related to deliberate forest fires. In addition, there is extreme heat and drought in the summer months and degraded forests, in which small fires can spread at breakneck speed. In the rarest of cases, the fires had natural causes.

Since the turn of the millennium, the Mediterranean countries have been struggling with a new phenomenon, the so-calledMega forest fires:True firestorms arise that can no longer be brought under control. They don't end until weather conditions change or the fire runs out of food. With climate change and the associated extreme weather events, the risk of forest fires in the Mediterranean area is also increasing.

In Southeast Asia, the vegetation is not naturally adapted to fire. Forest fires always have a destructive effect here. The locals have always used fire in slash-and-burn agriculture to fertilize the fields with the ashes with a short-term effect. When the population density is low, the forest has enough time to regenerate. However, the pressure on the region's forests is growing due to population growth and increased by large industries that acquire land for the cultivation of cheap raw materials such as palm oil or pulp wood.

Fire is usually used specifically to free the previously cleared parcels of wood residues and vegetation. In unusual dry periods, these fires last for months and sometimes take on gigantic proportions. For example, the El Niño Effect in 2015 brought with it an extreme drought, which resulted in serious forest fires in Indonesia from the end of June to November. The plumes of smoke affected the environment and human health.The forest fires in Indonesia in 2015 released almost twice as many greenhouse gases as Germany emitted in 2014.

Since 1990 Indonesia has lost 27.5 million hectares of forest through deforestation, fires and conversion into wood, paper and oil palm plantations. This corresponds roughly to two and a half times the forest area in Germany. From the perspective of international climate protection, the peat bog forests in Southeast Asia play a special role. This is because they are the largest terrestrial carbon stores in the tropics. When drained, for example for oil palm cultivation, they are particularly at risk from subsequent fires, because the dried out peat is an ideal fuel. Since these forests store enormous amounts of carbon underground, if they are destroyed by fire they quickly become a gigantic source of emissions for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

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