Close this search box.

Wildfires are not worse — despite media hype about ‘global warming’

Global warming means a global fall in wildfires

By Jo Nova

Strangely, despite NASA Giss “discovering” that the world has heated a lot since 1998, fires have declined.

Apparently increasing our CO2 emissions means less fires. Tell the world.

Incidence and Area of fires burned globally, annually, graph. 2018.

Figure 2. Wildfire occurrence (a) and corresponding area burnt (b) in the European Mediterranean region for the period 1980 – 2010. Source: San-Miguel-Ayanz et al. [37].

This new paper points out that the perception is that fires are worse than they have ever been, but that this is simply not true, not in the last thirty years, and not in the last few hundred either. It also documents how much money and effort we put into suppressing almost all fires and that this is in contrast to tens of thousands of years where humans used fire as a tool. Suppressing fires is getting increasingly expensive and sometimes costs lives as well.

Putting things in perspective. We spend a lot of money to avoid death and damage by fire, yet earthquakes kill 700 times as many people and floods kill 1,800 times as many people. There is something primal about fire that we feel driven to stop.

Table, Fires, Floods, Earthquake, damage, death. 2018

Table 1. Global comparison of human and economic losses derived from wildfire, earthquakes and flood disasters from 1901 to 2014. (Source: EMDAT 2015 [83].)

Perhaps we have a politico-social problem with fire, rather than a real one

Perhaps rather than a ‘wildfire problem’ that has worsened globally in recent decades, the negative, and sometimes tragic, consequences of fire themselves may be gaining wider public attention and, therefore, recognition. The fact that nowadays the latest news reports about disasters from around the world are readily available to large parts of the population may be a contributing factor. What is not spreading equally well is the recognition that fire is a fundamental natural ecological agent in many of our ecosystems and only a ‘problem’ where we choose to inhabit these fireprone regions or we humans introduce it to non-fire-adapted ecosystems [3]. The ‘wildfire problem’ is essentially more a social than a natural one.

The media are dominated by reports from fires where lives are lost or at risk, and these are typically from fire-prone regions exhibiting high population densities (figure 4)…. there is likely to be a bias in reporting of losses for Western countries given that the largest number of people affected by fire and losses of life appears to be elsewhere (i.e Asia…)

We thus need to move towards a more sustainable coexistence with fire. This requires a balanced and informed understanding of the realities of wildfire occurrence and its effects.

Fires, continents, death, damage, table, 2018.

Table 2. Human and economic losses from wildfire ‘disasters’ by global region from 1984 to 2013. Costs are based on the actual value of US$ in a given reporting year. (Source: EM-DAT 2013 [83].)  |   Click to enlarge.

I want to know how Africa with so many people has so few affected by wildfire. Is that just a reporting artefact, or is there something real going on? The paper does not say.

h/t GWPF


In the last 200 years fires don’t seem to have increased either

2. Has fire increased in many regions around the globe? Analysis of charcoal records in sediments [31] and isotoperatio records in ice cores [32] suggest that global biomass burning during the past century has been lower than at any  time in the past 2000 years. Although the magnitude of the actual differences between pre-industrial and current biomass burning rates may not be as pronounced as suggested by those studies [33], modelling approaches agree with a general decrease of global fire activity at least in past centuries [34]. In spite of this, fire is often quoted as an increasing issue around the globe [11,26 –29].

In California, before Europeans arrived the area burned was 6 times higher

This suggests a general trend of fewer, but larger wildfires, which is also highlighted for forests in the western USA by Westerling for the period 1983–2012 [46]. However, caution is advised when considering the relative rates of change for area burned. The comparatively brief periods of observation discussed here are strongly influenced by regional interannual variability and are too short to be indicative of longer-term trends. For example, if only the past 16 full reporting years for the USA are considered (2000 –2015), where annual area burned ranged between 14 284 (2001) and 40 975 km2 (2015), the overall annual increase has been less than 1% [48]. Longer-term records can indeed reveal rather different perspectives. For example, for the Californian Cascades and Sierra Nevada, Mallek et al. [49] suggest that ‘modern’ (1984–2009) annual area burned was only 14% of that burned annually prior to European settlement (approx. 1500–1850). In addition to climate, changes in vegetation patterns and fire regimes also play an important role here and are discussed in the context of fire severity in §3a.


Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Jun 5;371(1696). pii: 20150345. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0345.

see also:  NASA Detects Drop in Global Fires (GWPF)

Scientists find a surprising result on global wildfires: They’re actually burning less land (GWPF)