Disasters Explained: Wildfires

Wildfires burn millions of acres of land every year globally. Find out more about what they are, how they occur and facts about the 2020 Australia bushfires.

Wildfires are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as natural disasters.

However, only 10-15% of them happen on their own in nature.

Most wildfires are caused by humans, and the most common causes are unattended camp and debris fires, discarded cigarettes, and arson. (source: National Geographic).

Find out more about wildfires, their link with climate change, where they occur and more.

What is a wildfire?


A wildfire, wildland fire or rural fire is an uncontrolled fire in an area of vegetation happening in rural areas.

Wildfires can rapidly burn millions of acres of land and can destroy everything—trees, homes, animals and humans in their paths. Families and whole communities that live in rural, wildfire-prone areas are in danger of losing their homes and having to flee for their own safety. Wildfires also have major health hazards, especially for people with existing breathing problems.

Breathing fire smoke can cause respiratory issues and coughing, wheezing and bronchitis. Another threat is carbon monoxide (CO). Inhaling CO reduces oxygen delivery to the body’s organs and tissues and can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness and even premature death.

Source: American Lung Association

What is the difference between a wildfire and a bushfire?


Wildfire is the general umbrella term, whereas the term bushfire refers to an uncontrollable fire in bushland.

In simple terms, you can specifically refer to the type of wildfire depending on the vegetation present.

Where do bushfires occur?


Australia is very prone to menacing bushfires.

The country’s climate is generally hot, dry and susceptible to drought.

At any time of the year, some parts of Australia suffer extremely damaging bushfires.

Bushfires tend to occur when light and heavy fuel loads in Eucalypt forests have dried out, usually following periods of low rainfall.

Have a look below at some facts and numbers about the devastating 2020 Australia bushfires.

Australia Bushfires: Facts and Numbers


AS OF 6 JANUARY 2020

  • There were about 136 fires burning across New South Wales on Monday 6 January.
  • Over 480 million animals died across New South Wales.
  • In total, over 15 million acres have been burned across the country’s six states. That’s larger than the countries of Belgium and Haiti combined.
  • Officials say 24 people have lost their lives nationwide this fire season.

Source: CNN

Sources: CNN, National Geographic, Environmental Defense Fund, American Lung Association

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