Nearly double the usual winter wildfires, triple the acreage burned in northern India

India’s Forest Service has reported 1,006 wildfire alerts to the northern state of Uttarakhand since November 1, according to the Times of India. That number is up from the 556 wildfire alerts the service reported during the same time last year.

The increase is part of a worrying and destructive cycle that has escalated in the area for the past six years. Uttarakhand has had triple the acres burned by wildfires since 2017, worsened by its first-ever repeated occurrence of winter wildfires, or wildfires outside of the state’s usual fire season of February 15 to June 15.

“The unusual shift in the fire season may be linked to different reasons including climate change, the lockdown, or too much human intervention in the forests,” Arti Chaudhary, the head of Silviculture and Forest Resource Management Division at the Forest Research Institute, told the Times. “A five-year study across 15 states of the country that witness forest fires, including Uttarakhand, has been initiated to thoroughly understand the actual reasons behind this shift, as it has been recorded all over the country.”

The winter wildfires also contributed to the state’s above-average wildfire carbon emissions in 2021. Uttarakhand’s wildfires emitted an estimated 0.2 megatonnes of carbon in March 2021 alone, breaking a record set in 2003, according to Copernicus Climate Change Service scientist Mark Parrington.

Northern India’s skies took on a hazy hue in November caused in part by the unusual wildfire shift, NASA satellites show. The haze is reportedly a seasonal occurrence caused by urban pollution entering the atmosphere when seasonal weather patterns trap air pollution near the ground, but smoke from the unseasonal wildfires made the air quality even worse.

“The World Health Organization considers 15 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to be a safe limit,” said NASA. “But ground-based air quality monitors routinely measured levels that exceeded 300 and, at times, 500 micrograms per cubic meter in November.”

northern India, NASA image
Northern India, NASA image

Photos tell story of Maui wildfires’ destruction, aftermath and recovery

It’s been nearly five months since wildfires devastated Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Since then, images of the destruction have captivated the nation.

Honolulu Civil Beat has compiled collections of photos from each month of the aftermath, cataloging the desperation and the assistance that has flooded the area since the wildfires were controlled.

“We have thousands of images in our growing media database, of Lahaina and Upcountry, the victims and the landscape that were left in ash and ruin,” wrote for the Civil Beat. “In the past nearly five months, we’ve photographed numerous community gatherings, resource fairs, public officials in various settings from press conferences to legislative hearings. We’ve picked a smattering that we think represents the story that is continuing to unfold and we’ll publish these galleries at the end of each month.”

See the Maui fires in the photo series here:

2023 Fire season: smallest number of acres in 25 years

Noxious smoke, zombie fires and the deadliest wildfire in modern U.S. history.

Wildfires made headlines numerous times throughout 2023, with the Lahaina wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui taking center stage in national media for months. For thousands of residents, recovery is still ongoing, with no end in sight.

Despite that, the year’s wildfire season was one of the quietest in decades. The National Interagency Fire Center estimated that 54,273 wildfires burned about 2.6 million acres. That’s the lowest yearly U.S. acreage burned by wildfire since 1998, when 81,043 wildfires burned 1.3 million acres.

The year is a relief for the wildland firefighters who are coming off  multiple high-burn years in a row, with 2015, 2017, and 2020 each  exceeding 10 million acres burned. The last time wildfires burned under 4 million acres was a decade ago when 63,312 fires in 2014 burned 3.6 million acres.

The reason for the low burn acreage could be attributed partly to 2023’s wet West. While the Eastern U.S. often has more wildfires, Western states see more acreage burned during the season. Thanks to above-average —  and some record-breaking — snowfall in states including California, Arizona, and Nevada, wildfires couldn’t find a foothold.

nsidc.org
nsidc.org

“Nine atmospheric rivers over a three-week period fueled the record-breaking snowfall,”  according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “The snow brought much-needed relief to the drought-stricken West, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, where rapid snowmelt and early melt contributed to moderate drought conditions in late spring.”

While the U.S. saw relief, its northern neighbor dealt with a nightmare. Canada burned a record-breaking 18 million hectares (more than 44 million acres, roughly the size of North Dakota) during its 2023 fire season. The total blows the nation’s previous most-burned year out of the water, according to the Canadian National Fire Database. The country’s previous record year was 1980, when nearly 8 million hectares burned.

In contrast to the Western U.S. record-setting snowfall, much of Canada’s forests experienced drought and high temperatures heading into its wildfire season, Canada’s Drought Monitor shows. Severe drought was seen throughout the year, while extreme drought was seen in every month after April.

Canadian fire years
Canadian fire years

As the world kicks off 2024, wildland firefighters across the West are hoping for another record-setting snowfall.

August ‘pyrotornado’ in Canada validated by researchers

A video that claimed to show a rarely-seen wildfire phenomenon went viral in August. Now, researchers have confirmed its legitimacy.

An “extensive investigation” led by researchers at Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project in Ontario started after the video of a vortex above British Columbia’s Gun Lake was shared by numerous news outlets after it was recorded on August 18.

“The Northern Tornadoes Project has been investigating this event since that time — very carefully, given this was potentially the first fire-generated tornado that we have recorded,” researchers said.

Researchers first confirmed the location and date of the video, then had to determine whether the vortex shown in the video met the definition of a tornado. The project was able to determine the tornado’s validity through multiple visual indications from the recording, including the presence of a spray vortex at the base of the tornado, how the vortex formed and the position of the vortex over the fire, all of which matched the scientific research related to fire-generated tornadoes.

“Though the terminology in this area of science is still developing, it should be pointed out that this intense vortex was not a brief, fire-filled ‘fire whirl‘ but an actual tornado that is sometimes referred to as a pyrotornado,” the researchers said. “This is the first such fire-generated tornado recorded by [the Northern Tornadoes Project], and appears to be the most thoroughly documented fire-generated tornado so far in Canada.”

The researchers confirmed that, yes, the event is classified as a tornado. The full extent of the damage from the tornado isn’t yet known, but the project says evidence is trickling in slowly.

The pyrotornado isn’t the only one that’s been thoroughly studied. The “world’s first wildfire tornado” was captured on video in 2003 during a wildfire outside of Canberra, Australia. The fire destroyed 500 homes and killed four people. The damage was worsened when the pyrotornado emerged.

“The Canberra fire tornado of 2003 was rated an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with horizontal winds of 160 miles per hour, roughly equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane,” an article from Smithsonian Magazine reads. “As the first documented example of its kind, it was a milestone — another harbinger of 21st-century fire.”

A similar event was recorded during the 2018 Carr Fire in Redding, California, dubbed “the most destructive fire in National Park System history.” The fire destroyed 1,614 structures, killed seven people, and burned 229,651 acres. The fire also has a place in history for the pyrotornado it generated, which has since helped forecasters’ and scientists’ ability to identify future fire-generated tornadoes. NOAA researchers studied the pyrotornado, which had many similarities to the Gun Lake tornado.

“A key factor in the vortex formation was the development of a fire-generated ice-topped cloud (i.e., a pyrocumulonimbus), which reached as high as 12 km aloft,” NOAA said. “These observations will help forecasters and scientists identify, and potentially warn for, future destructive fire-generated vortices.”

A video that claimed to show a rarely-seen wildfire phenomenon went viral in August. Now, researchers have confirmed its legitimacy.

An “extensive investigation” led by researchers at Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project in Ontario started after the video of a vortex above British Columbia’s Gun Lake was shared by numerous news outlets after it was recorded on August 18.

Burning Alaskan permafrost increasing methane emissions

Posted on Categories ResearchTags , ,

The flames have died out on Alaska’s largest river delta, but emissions are still seeping out of the tundra’s ground.

A recent NASA study found that methane “hot spots” in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are more likely to be found where wildfires burned into the tundra. The greenhouse gas reportedly originates from decomposing carbon stored in the tundra’s permafrost for thousands of years.

“We find that [methane] hotspots are roughly 29 percent more likely on average in tundra that burned within the last 50 years compared with  unburned areas, and that this effect is nearly tripled along burn scar perimeters that are delineated by surface water features,” the researchers said. “Our results indicate that the changes following tundra fire favor the complex environmental conditions needed to generate emission hotspots.”

Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories
Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories

The correlation also nearly tripled in areas where fires burned to the edge of a lake, stream, or other body of standing water, according to NASA. The highest ratio of methane hot spots occurred in recently burned wetlands. Researchers detected roughly 2 million hot spots across 11,583 square miles. The team believes more hot spots could soon emerge.

“By some projections, the fire risk in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta could quadruple by the end of the century due to warming conditions and increased lightning storms – the leading cause of tundra fires,” they said.

Alaska had two of its largest tundra fires ever in 2022. The East Fork Fire ignited on May 31 after a lightning strike, and burned more than 150,000 acres along the Yukon River. The Apoon Pass Fire, the second largest, burned 84,130 acres.

Previous research found that the majority of yearly methane emissions from Alaska’s tundra occur during the cold season between September and May, indicating that total emissions are sensitive to soil climate and snow depth.

Hackberry Fire burning near Prescott

Posted on Categories WildfireTags ,

Fire crews are fighting the Hackberry Fire, burning seven miles west of Prescott, Arizona since Monday morning, according to the Arizona Emergency Information Network.

The fire had burned 30 acres as of Monday afternoon, Prescott NF firefighters said.

Hackberry Fire 12/18/2023
Hackberry Fire 12/18/2023

Updates:

  • Fire crews report there are no values at risk or threatened.
  • The cause of the fire is unknown and under investigation.

How many acres has it burned?
The Hackberry Fire has burned 30 acres and is zero percent contained.  Infrared imaging has not yet been done to get an accurate estimate of acres burned. Recreationists should avoid camping, biking, and hiking near the fires and use caution while driving the roads as firefighters will be traveling to and from the fire.

Are there any evacuations?
There are no evacuations yet announced, nor any communities warned to prepare for evacuation.

What roads or highways have been closed?
Authorities have not announced any road closures.

Wildfire Go-Kit:
Residents in wildfire-prone areas are urged to have an emergency supplies kit to bring with them if they are evacuated from their homes. An emergency supply kit, a “go bag,” should be put together long before a wildfire or other disaster occurs. Make sure to keep it easily accessible so you can take it with you when you have to evacuate.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that residents store emergency supplies in a plastic tub, small suitcase, trash can, backpack, or other container. Residents should make sure they have the necessities, such as three gallons of water per person and a three-day supply of ready-to-eat food, the NFPA said. A first aid kit, prescription medications, contact lenses, and non-prescription drugs should also be taken into account.

Copies of important family documents, including insurance policies, identification, bank account records, and emergency contact numbers should also be put into a waterproof portable container in your kit.

The NFPA lists other items that would help in a disaster, including:

  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and a NOAA weather radio to receive up-to-date information
  • Dust mask or cotton T-shirt to filter air
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Complete change of clothing including long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and sturdy shoes stored in a waterproof container
  • Signal flare

The entire NFPA checklist of supplies can be found here.

near a disaster