Wildfire Update – July 2022
The NOAA reports that wildfires have burned over 3.9 million acres from January to June 2022, the second-highest amount on record. July continues the trend, from the blaze across Yosemite National Park in California to others hitting the USA. We review some of the headlines from July that have had the most significant impact on the environment and local air quality.
The Growing Impact of Wildfires
Impacts from wildfires on public and environmental health are increasing and expected to keep rising. Climate modeling helps anticipate the effects of wildfires, and nations worldwide are preparing for a decade that may level critical stresses across their societies. The American Lung Association's medical spokesperson Dr. Meredith McCormack commented on recent findings from the organization. She explained how smoke from large fires can reach areas thousands of miles away, affecting millions of people across an extremely large territory. Compared to 2001-2004, 2016-2019 had a 19% increase in wildfire exposure. Dr. McCormack added that even if exposure periods to wildfires are shorter than other types of air pollution, the health risks are higher.
Yosemite Wildfire Contained
In July, firefighters in California were called into Yosemite National Park to battle a wildfire that threatened homes and a tree stand of famed giant sequoias. The fire was contained to a four square miles (11 km2) area along the western side of the Sierra Nevada range. Authorities set up a sprinkler system to keep moisture levels high enough to offer some protection and reduce the threat to the trees. Of particular concern is a 3,000-year-old sequoia, affectionately named the Grizzly Giant. To date, more than 35,000 wildfires have been recorded by the National Interagency Fire Center in 2022. This has resulted in damage to 5.7 million acres (a larger area than New Jersey) – much higher than the average for both burn numbers and areas damaged by fire. This marks the halfway point in the difficult fire season, and authorities have committed themselves to successfully containing the fires that have appeared so far.
Texas Wildfire Risks Worryingly High
July and August are especially tough in Texas, with elevated wildfire risks across the state. As triple-digit temperatures and soaring heat raise drought and dryness levels, the risk of severe wildfires is still high. Affected areas to date include Abilene, Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio, San Angelo, Waco, and Wichita Falls. These cities are especially vulnerable to wildfires, and the combined territory these cities cover is significant in America's second-large state. Fire analyst and Texas A&M Forest Service representative Luke Kanclerz explained that one factor that's especially challenging is lightning strikes. "Wildfire ignitions due to lightning will be possible because of the underlying drought and vegetation dryness," he said. Adding that "Increased wind speeds from nearby thunderstorms can cause a sudden increase in fire activity, creating safety concerns for firefighters."
Europe's Record-breaking Fires
The EU has joined other world regions in breaking wildfire records. So far, the number of wildfires across the European Union is four times higher than the average from the past 15 years. As of July this year, almost 2,000 severe wildfires hit the territory. Compared to other years going back to 2006, the average number of fires recorded each July was 520. This summer, record-breaking heatwaves have hit France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. These soaring temperatures have led to severe fires each nation is struggling to contain. Extreme weather events from heat waves are increasingly linked to human-caused activity. As we experience more frequent and longer-lasting heat waves, meteorologists, policymakers, and others expect more frequent and severe wildfires.