Europe has the worst wildfire in years of recorded history

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Europe has the worst wildfire in years of recorded history

Lames light up hillsides in British Columbia. Smoke swells over highways into Athens. In a California swimming pool, charred rubble surrounds a pool. He shriveled forests in northern Japan lie shriveled and brown.

Countries across the northern hemisphere this summer have the worst wildfire in years of recorded history, with massive swaths of land and entire towns in Europe, North America and Russia consumed by flames since the start of July.

Although many of these countries are set to extreme summer fire seasons, climate change is making the hot, dry conditions that allow fires to spread and catch more common and more intense.

In parts of the western U.S., a summer of weak rain-induced heat waves has arrived on the back of a two-year-long drought as intense drought stretches on In mid-July, fires broke out in parts of the United States, together consuming more than 230,000 hectares, part of a national toll of over 1 million hectares burned in wildfires this year.

In early July, the Canadian province of British Columbia became an icon for the extremes of destruction that wildfires can bring: the small town of Lytton briefly became one of the hottest places on Earth, obliterating Canada's heat records with temperatures topping 49.5 C. A fierce wildfire then destroyed a town, burning 90% of its buildings and leaving residents with minutes to escape.

This month, southern Mediterranean countries are sweltering under one of the worst heat waves to hit the region in decades. The temperature in one city in northern France reached 47.1 C on Aug. 4, not far below the all-time reprint of Europe's record of 48 C in Italy Fires in the south of the country hit residential areas on the outskirts of Athens, forcing people to flee into the city center as huge smoke plumes followed them.

In Manavgat the most severe fires on record have eaten more than 11,000 hectares of forest, killing eight people, most of them in Turkey's southern city of Turin. The devastation has led to anger at Turkey's government, which has struggled to respond to the flames and admitted that it has no working firefighting planes.

In Italy, where some 800 fires burned across multiple regions this week, tourist resorts on the eastern coast town of Pescara rushed into a resort beach as a nearby wood went up in flames on Aug. 1.

Nearly 2,000 miles north of the Mediterranean Sea, in northern Finland — where wildfires are rare — flames consumed 300 hectares of forest in the remote Kalajoki River basin in the last week of July, the worst wildfire recorded in the country since 1971.

Some of the world's most extreme fires, in terms of managing climate change, have happened a few thousand miles east of Russia, in eastern Russia's Siberian Yakutia region. Over 4.2 million hectares have burned this year and scientists worry they are destroying wetlands and causing layers of permafrost to melt - which could release massive amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said fires in the area had released 505 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere - already surpassing 2020's record for emissions in an entire fire season, 450 megatonnes.

All of this could put us at risk of falling into a devastating cycle: as greenhouse gases released by fires such as these and by other human activities including the burning of fossil fuels — continue to drive up global temperatures over the coming years, conditions will likely become even more favorable for fires which in turn could drive up temperatures. If we can rapidly reduce our emissions, set up programs to restore natural ecosystems and get much better at fighting wildfires, we could, possibly, put a stop to that cycle some day. However, between now and then there could be many more fire seasons like this.