Photo by  Flickr. Multiple fires and thick smoke plumes in the Sakha Republic, Russia (Lat: 63.13, Lng: 117.95) - July 8th, 2021- Image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2021], processed by Pierre Markuse. Image shows an area about 176 kilometers wide.
10 Aug 2021

An overview of devastating wildfires during the summer of 2021


France and Spain experienced an average of 200 fires a week during the month of July, compared with an average of 38 and 81 fires respectively in the last twelve years. July was the second warmest month ever in Europe. Siberia has lost over 4 million hectares of forests. Several firefighters have died or been injured.

In countries around the Mediterranean, Turkey and in North America, forest fires are burning, partly due to the extreme heat.

According to SkyNews,  globally the month of July this year has been the warmest ever, since temperatures were first recorded . Fires are raging in several countries around the Mediterranean and also in North America, mainly the western parts of the USA and Canada.


50 simultaneous fires break out in Algeria - 42 dead

On Tuesday, news stations around the world announced breaking news that 42 people have died in Algeria due to wildfires the government suspects are started by arson. 

Several of Algeria's provinces are affected, and at least 42 people have died in the fires that broke out east of the capital Algiers, the news agency Reuters reports.

25 of them died while trying to evacuate civilians, according to the country's Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmanes.

He states that the government has now asked for help from the international community to fight the wildfires.

Large evacuations are underway, and some have sought refuge in schools in the Tizi Ouzou province, according to al-Bilad newspaper.

The country's Minister of the Interior, Kamel Beldjoud, suspects that several fires have been started.

"The fact that about fifty fires break out simultaneously in several places in the province, proves criminals must be behind this",  he told Algerian television according to the news agency TT.


900 buildings destroyed in California Dixie Fire

In parts of North America, the population is used to forest fires and wildfires. In recent days, the Dixie fire in California has surpassed last year's record fire, August Complex, in size and is now the largest rever recorded single wildfire in the history of the state.  This wildfire season seems to testify to how fire trends are changing and fires are starting both earlier in the year, getting larger and becoming more numerous. 

This year's wildfire season in California started earlier than usual and compare to the 1980s, the total area affected by fire has doubled, according to researchers at Columbia University. In addition, the state of Oregon has also been affected by the Bootleg fire. Smoke traveled all the way to the east coast of the United States, affecting air quality in large cities like New York. 

The Dixie Fire kept pushing through forestlands on Tuesday. Fire crews tried to protect rural communities from flames that have so far destroyed a total of 900 structures. 

Aircraft are currently enjoying clear skies again and are allowed to fly in over the area, according to FireEngineering.com.  Nearly 6,000 firefighters participated in the attack this week.

Fire service spokesman Edwin Zuniga said to AP that it is still undecided if water bombers will be able to help in the efforts, because of smoky conditions in certain key areas. 

Large parts of the small community of Greenville.ca was destroyed in the fire last week.


Over 4 million hectares of forested land destroyed in Russia

Siberia has experienced enormous forest fires this summer as well, and according to some sources, an area the size of an average European country is affected.  In the large sub-republic of Sacha in north-eastern Siberia the July and August fires are already estimated to have released more greenhouse gases than during all of last year, according to the EU space organization Copernicus.

In total, over 4 million hectares have burned this year. The smoke has now traveled over 300 km and reached all the way to the North Pole, which according to Nasa is "the first time in documented history".


Firefighter died on duty in Greece

In Greece, temperatures of up to 46 C / 115 F have been recorded in recent days, and out of control forest fires are affecting several areas, including the capital of Athens. Thousands of people have been evacuated, including 600 people who have been evacuated by boat from the island of Evia, Greece's second largest island. 

A volunteer firefighter died on Friday north of Athens.

Just under 300 firefighters, two firefighting aircraft and five helicopters are working to put out a forest fire in Greece that has so far destroyed about 20 homes and forced five villages to evacuate. Eight people are being cared for in hospital for burns and breathing problems. The fire broke out early on Saturday near Patras, about 200 km west of Athens.

"We are dealing with unprecedented conditions because many days of heat wave have turned the whole country into a barrel of gunpowder (ready to explode)  ," said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a televised speech on Thursday.

On Thursday, the mayor of Olympia appealed for more help to save the ancient sports arena when surrounding villages were evacuated. Greek authorities have completely banned visits to forests, national parks and other nature areas due to the extreme fire hazard.

The Coast Guard has received help from several fishing boats, naval vessels and a ferry in the evacuation from the northern part of the island of Evia. Most other escape routes have been cut off. 

According to Deputy Minister of Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias, conditions on Evvia are particularly tough for the firefighting aircraft working in the area:

"Limited visibility, turbulence and wind currents from the fire put the pilots in great danger," he told AP.

One of the firefighting planes has crash landed on the island of Zakynthos in the western parts of the country, according to the news agency AFP. Allegedly everyone onboard survived the crash. 

In some areas on the island of Rhodes, the fire causes disturbances in the telephone network and in other places there should no longer be running water, writes The Greek Reporter.

The fire has forced residents in a number of villages, including the town of Psinthos, to evacuate. A military base has also been evacuated.

The worst affected is the Kalamonas area, which is close to the popular tourist attraction Valley of the Butterflies. 


Two firefighters died on duty in Turkey
In Turkey, eight people have died and thousands have been evacuated due to the fires. In the last two weeks, an area three times the normal has burned compared to a normal year, according to European fire authorities, reports Reuters news agency.

208 fires have been reported since July 28. Twelve are still burning on Friday, according to the president's office.  

98 fires have broken out along Turkey's southern coast during the week. On Saturday, two Turkish firefighters died in connection with the operation against a forest fire near the tourist resort of Antalya. On Sunday, two more dead were found in Manavgat in Antalya, according to the Turkish news agency DHA, which means that the total death toll is now up to eight, reports AP. 

In Italy, 800 fires have occurred, mainly in the south. People have been evacuated from their homes, including a thousand people on the island of Sardinia. Sicily was also affected severely by forest fires at the end of July. 

Italian firefighters are still battling near the Sicilian cities of Catania, Palermo and Syracuse. New fires are constantly starting. 299 of the 658 forest fires that the fire brigade responded to on Sunday are still active, the national fire authority Vigili del Fuoco writes on Twitter. 


Record breaking forest fire in Finland

Finland's largest forest fire in 50 years has been affecting the city of Kalajoki, in the region of northern Ostrobothnia. The fire picked up speed on Wednesday last week as it spread quickly with the wind through the treetops. On Friday, the fire area covered around 290 hectares, an area larger than 414 socker fields.

On Saturday, there was no immediate threat to residents and there was no acute risk of evacuation. However, the rescue service in Jokilaaksot expects that the extinguishing work will continue well into this week and has requested help from rescue services throughout Finland. In addition, Swedish fire planes are ready to help if the situation becomes urgent.


On the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is usually the country most affected by fires during the hot months of the year. But this year, neighboring Spain has been hit harder than usual. 

At the end of July, several villages in Catalonia were forced to evacuate when a fire that engulfed at least 1,500 hectares erupted. Farmers were urged to clear fields of crops to prevent the fire from spreading. A number of fires have also ravaged the Castilla-La Mancha region. Among other places in Liétor, just north of Murcia, where at least 2,500 hectares have been affected.


In North Macedonia,  heat wave that struck at the end of July has created conditions for fires to spread in large parts of the country, including near the capital Skopje. More than 3,000 hectares are estimated to have been ravaged by fire and local authorities are receiving support from the rescue services of several other nearby countries countries, including Austria and Slovenia.

The relatively young country of North Macedonia has limited resources for firefighting,  according to the Red Cross. 


Cover photo (Above) by  Flickr. Multiple fires and thick smoke plumes in the Sakha Republic, Russia (Lat: 63.13, Lng: 117.95) - July 8th, 2021- Image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2021], processed by Pierre Markuse. Image shows an area about 176 kilometers wide.