Sunday, 8 February 2009

Forest fires - 2

The death toll in Australia’s forest fires (see yesterday’s blog) has now reached at least 93, making them the deadliest in the country’s history. Not surprisingly, many firefighters are exhausted, and police say they some suspect some of the fires were started deliberately. Some towns have suffered severe damage, with one burned to the ground, and hundreds of homes have been destroyed.

As I noted yesterday, the number killed, mercifully, is well below that seen in some American forest fires. Apart from the worst of all at Peshtigo in Wisconsin in 1871, up to 1,000 people perished in Minnesota and Wisconsin in October 1918, and perhaps 800 died in 1894 in fires that raged over 160,000 acres of Minnesota, destroying six towns.


  1. The fires in Australia seem very severe indeed. The south of France and indeed the mediteranean littoral region in general always seems to get hit very hard. Remember the Greek fires in 2007? Also, the Japanese Navy tried to set fire to forests in Washington State during World War II with balloon bombs. Their efforts didn't get very far! Here's a question for you. Has there ever been severe forest fires in countries that routinely experience colder weather? How about in Scandanavia or Russia for example? Sure, these countries may have colder winters, but they can experience very dry summers as well. Also, have we ever had any severe fires in tropical jungles?

  2. Interesting thoughts. Tropical jungles tend to be moist (rainforests, cloudforests), though the WWF is afraid that climate change is increasing the danger of fire in the Amazon rainforest. Of course, deliberately started fires - to clear the ground for agriculture - are very common in the Amazon, and according to some environmental agencies, have now reached record levels. The Greek forest fires of 2007 killed more than 80 people, and there again some were thought to be arson. In the same year, a dozen people were charged with arson after severe forest fires in Croatia. Last year, Russia had its worst forest fires for three decades, but because they were in sparesely populated areas, the death toll appears to have been very low. Information from other readers on forest fires would be welcome!