“It was like we were on Mars”. Taking stock of recent wildfires across the world

From the Mediterranean to Finland, from Canada to Siberia, wildfires have wiped out thousands of hectares of land. The climate crisis also plays its part.

“It was red, like we were on Mars“. This is how someone from Oregon, in the United States – one of the states worst-hit by the recent wildfires – described the experience of being forced to flee their home to escape the flames.

For weeks now there has been almost constant news about violent wildfires from every corner of the world. Affected countries include Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Siberia, the United States, and Canada, to name but a few. People here are facing emergency situations, worsened by high temperatures, drought, and winds. Thousands of hectares of land have gone up in smoke, the number of evacuees keeps rising every day, as does the number of animals that weren’t able to escape the flames.

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The aftermath of wildfires in Cyprus © Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP via Getty Images

Wildfires in Italy and Greece

In Italy, the centre and the south of the country were the worst hit. In addition to Sardinia, where over 25,000 hectares of land have burned over the past ten days, the regions of Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, and Sicily also saw firefighters and disaster relief volunteers fighting to keep the fires under control.

Greece is experiencing a similar fate, after having been hit by the worst heatwave of the past thirty years. The authorities went as far as to ask citizens to save electricity. The situation in Spain and France is similar, with efforts to take control of the blazes taking days.

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A plane drops water on wildfires in Greece © Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

The situation in Turkey and Lebanon

More than one hundred wildfires have ravaged Turkey in the last few days, with many residents having to evacuate. At least six people lost their lives and many had to abandon their homes to the flames. Witnesses told press agency Reuters that it was “raining ash“. Wildfires are common in these regions, but the authorities have reported that the ones this year impacted much larger areas. To make matters worse, temperatures in the Antalya province could reach between 43 and 47 degrees next week.

In Lebanon, a blaze that started in the Akkar region spread so violently that it even reached the border with neighbouring Syria. Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada told AFP that it was fuelled by the strong winds.

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Firefighters looking on as a blaze rages in Lebanon © Ethan Swope/Getty Images

Finland and Siberia hit by record-breaking wildfires

However, the fires didn’t just affect countries in the Mediterranean. Finland and Siberia were also forced to respond. Finland, in particular, faced its worst wildfire in the past fifty years, which spread through forests that had been rendered especially dry by the extraordinary heatwave that engulfed the country. 250 people and four helicopters were deployed from other parts of the country to try to control the fire that broke out in the Kalojoki River valley. The wind also played a part in this case, spreading the fire from tree to tree until it covered over 300 hectares. In Siberia, meanwhile, wildfires have swept away over one-and-a-half million hectares of vegetation.

In the meantime, over 500,000 hectares of land were burned between the US and Canada. Some of the worst-hit regions in July were California, Oregon, and British Columbia. “It was red, like we were on Mars,” said Sayyid Bey, one of the Oregon residents who had to abandon their homes to escape the flames. The fires spread so quickly that they engulfed all the trees around Sayyid’s home. Then the ash covered everything.

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Burnt trees following wildfires in Oregon © Maranie Staab/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Despite the fact that the wildfire season is far from over, some countries have already started to estimate the extent of the damage that has been caused. In Sardinia, for example, the farming association Coldiretti estimated that it will take 15 years for the damage to be repaired, as long as no more wildfires as bad as this occur during that time. But with the climate crisis getting worse and worse, it’s hard to think it won’t happen again.

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