John McColgan



As the World Heats Up, Wildfires Will be the New Normal

The new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes for uncomfortable reading. It shows that the effects of a heating world are already upon us, that the huge wildfires that are burning in California, Turkey, and Greece are going to be commonplace as the world passes the crucial level of a 1.5-degree rise in average temperatures since the 19th century.

According to the report, prepared by 234 scientists across the world and signed off by 195 governments, humankind is hurtling towards a changing planet, where natural disasters that earlier hit once in a lifetime or once in a century, will now take place every decade, then every five years, and eventually when the world has crossed a 4 degrees rise, these events will take place every year. Every year! This is an incredible indictment of the toxic legacy that we are leaving for our future generations.

“We can expect a significant jump in extreme weather over the next 20 or 30 years,” said Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds who belongs to the group of international experts who helped write the report. “Things are unfortunately likely to get worse than they are today.”

As of this writing, wildfires have reached the outskirts of Athens in Greece, with the island of Evia evacuated to escape the flames. Britain and other European countries have sent firefighters to help put out the flames, but with 400 fires burning across Greece, it is a crisis of unimaginable proportions.

In the western United States, the Dixie fire has already burnt through one town and 463,477 acres of land, becoming the largest single wildfire ever in California’s history. If these are the effects we are seeing in the world’s richest countries, one can only imagine how this will play out in poorer countries that lack the same resources.

As the IPCC report points out, the impact of climate change will be felt even more by people in the developing world, who have hardly had any hand in causing global warming. Africa, for instance, already suffers from annual wildfires in the south of the continent. The savannahs of southern Africa are among the most fire-prone ecosystems in the world, with fires occurring during the dry season or early wet season. Over 1 million hectares of land are destroyed by wildland fires every year, resulting in the loss of agricultural produce, reduced food availability for both humans and animals, and a lower growth rate of vegetation.

Will the firefighters of the West now find time to put out fires in Africa that ravage the habitat on which millions of people’s livelihoods depend?

Berg winds – hot, dry winds blowing from the mountains to the coast – and vast dry grasslands in South Africa are a recipe for fires. In 2019, NASA announced that there are more wildfires burning in Africa than anywhere else in the world. According to NASA, roughly 70% of the 10,000 fires burning across the planet were in Africa. Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo ranked ahead of Brazil in terms of the extent of their wildfires. In August of 2019, a NASA satellite reportedly detected 6,902 fires in Angola, 3,395 in Congo, and 2,127 fires in Brazil.

Mitigation will be key for these African countries. They need equipment that can put out the fires quickly and effectively. In the case of Zimbabwe, the country only had fire trucks with tanks of 5,000-6,000 litre capacity, which is not enough to put out wildfires.

Zimbabwe has now received seven АЦ 11 fire trucks that have a tank of 11,000 litres each, almost twice as large. This larger capacity will allow fire crews to fight fires in hard-to-reach areas at a greater distance from their main base. The АЦ 11 also has a high cross-country ability chassis, allowing easier and faster access to fires in rural areas.

AFTRADE DMCC is the Dubai-based company that delivered the АЦ 11 fire trucks to Zimbabwe. It is currently in discussions with the Federal Fire Service of Nigeria to supply the country with firefighting vehicles as well.

“Forest fires pose an existential threat to the wildlife, landscape, and way of life of ordinary people. They are a danger to all humanity and the IPCC report confirms this now. Livelihoods are at stake, but our modern firefighting equipment helps to bolster the ability of developing countries to combat this scourge,” said Aleksander Zingman, head of AFTRADE DMCC.

Complementing the firefighting equipment on the ground are digital technologies that are playing an important role to predict the spread of fires. For example, satellites pinpoint potentially dangerous fires, while drones – equipped with special infrared cameras – track the fire’s progress. Virtual reality is used to help train smokejumpers, creating 3D representations of fire scenarios, and the Internet of Things (IoT) gathers data, including temperatures and CO2 levels, that indicates the possible presence of fire in the area. Through technology and digital connectivity, wildfire-fighting is increasingly becoming a proactive exercise.

As the planet heats up, modern and innovative equipment on the ground and in the air is helping to mitigate the biggest effects of climate change so far, without large-scale devastation of habitat. But with temperatures rising and natural disasters becoming more common, a re-think may be required, a genuine global effort to accelerate decarbonisation in order to avert disaster.