U.N.: Warming makes for bigger forest fires

U.N.: Warming makes for bigger forest fires

1 June 2007

published by www.msnbc.msn.com

Rome — Climate change is making forest fires around the world bigger andmore intense, increasing the threat to people and the environment and costingcountries millions in damage and firefighting expenses, the United Nationsreports.

With estimates of firefighting costs ranging from $450 million to $900 million per fire season, some countries — such as Canada — may no longer be able to afford to fight fires with the vigor that they currently do, cautioned the report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

In a global assessment of forest fires, the Rome-based agency found that 865 million acres of vegetation were affected by fires in 2000 alone — most of it in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report noted that not all forest fires are bad and that in some areas, ecosystems need fire for plant regeneration. Fire is also an important and widely used tool in agriculture. But overall, the report said, forest fires caused immense damage in human, environmental and economic costs — and are expected to increase in size and intensity alongside global warming.

A Russian helicopter dumps water on a 2003 forest fire near the Siberian city of Chita. Researchers find growing evidence tying an upsurge in wildfires to climate change, an impact long predicted by global-warming forecasters.(Photo: AP file)

The report urged countries to invest more in fire preparedness and prevention,noting that people are the main causes of fires and need to be better educatedabout preventing them.

The report stressed that the data was incomplete since many regions don’trecord the extent of fires because it costs too much. Data from Southeast Asia,for example — where forest fires in recent years have raised internationalconcern — was particularly scant. But FAO said the report represented the bestassessment of the global fire situation to date.

North American researchers reported that the incidence and severity of fires”will increase dramatically” with global warming.

In the most recent years for which figures are available, the United Statesrecorded the most severe series of fire seasons since it started collectingstatistics, with more than 7 million acres burned in 2004. Initial figuresindicate that 8.6 million acres were burned in 2005.

Mediterranean countries also said that warmer temperatures and reducedrainfall in summer — both associated with climate change — would increasethe risk of fires in the region and beyond. That concern was echoed by Caribbeancountries, which noted an increase in fires with the El Nino weather phenomenon.

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