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6 february 2020

An explosion of fire alerts worldwide in the past 20 years

While statistics place Australia at the head of the top ten list of countries with the most fire alerts, other parts of the world have also been affected by large-scale fires (megafires): in California, Siberia, the Arctic, the Congo Basin and the Amazon forest, the number of fires rose by 41%* in the period from January to September 2019 alone (compared to 2018).

According to Global Forest Watch, which specializes in monitoring fires in real time**, the wave of devastating fires in Australia*** singlehandedly represented 33% of alerts**** recorded worldwide between December 1, 2019 and January 2, 2020. 


The other countries most impacted by these “megafires1,” which have not always received the same media coverage, are mostly found in Africa. In second and third place in the rankings, the Central African Republic and South Sudan have respectively reached a total of 247,000 and 232,000 fire alerts. 


This phenomenon has prompted Niklas Hagelberg, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) climate change expert, to state that “megafires may well become the new normal as global temperatures continue to rise.” 


Further down the list we find Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Guinea and Cameroon. Also in the leading pack in 7th position, Brazil is the only country from the American continent.


Last but not least, according to data published by Global Forest Watch, the number of fire alerts spanning more than a square kilometer has risen alarmingly over the past twenty years: 1.7 million were counted in 2001, while the figure exceeded 4.5 million in 2019. 


2019, année sous les feux, France Culture, December 2019

** Data generated by NASA fire information for resource management using satellites.

*** According to the latest estimate published by researchers from the University of Sydney in early January 2020, 1.25 billion animals have died in Australia due to forest fires. 

**** Over this period, Australia had a total of 0.5 million fire alerts, out of over 1.5 million worldwide. 

1 In the United States, a forest fire is described as a “megafire” when it destroys over ten thousand hectares. In Europe, the expression is used from 1,000 hectares. They generally represent 1 to 2% of a region’s biggest fires.




© Rick Rycroft/AP/SIPA