This is how much of the world is currently on fire
Kendra Pierre-Louis
at 08:00 AM Aug 8 2017
This is how much of the world is currently on fire
Fire bad
US Forest Service
Science // 

You may have missed the memo (we get it, there's been a lot going on) but the world is currently on fire as massive blazes burn in the United States, Canada, and across Europe. To give you a sense of the scale of the inferno, we've included maps of the wildfires, as well as images from some of the fiery scenes. Here, is the lowdown.

Here in the United States the Forest Service is reporting that 2017 is shaping up to be a worse than average fire year based on acres of federal, private and state land burned. So far, 5.6 million acres of land has burned this year, or 1.8 million acres more than the ten year average of 3.8 million acres burned by this time. Some states like Nevada are saying that 2017 is the worst fire season in 15 years, while Montana has already used up much of its firefighting budget, even as much of the state remains in drought conditions according to the US Drought Monitor. The state may have to tap into reserve and federal funding but that isn't the only cost. Brent M. Witham, a 29-year-old firefighter from Mentone, California, was killed cutting down a tree while working on the Lolo Peak Fire.
map of US wildfires

Kendra Pierre-Louis


Despite urgent conditions, funding for the nation's six Regional Climate Centers (RCCs) which provide data that we use to help control and prevent wildfires is on the chopping block. The President's proposed budget would slash the Centers' budgets by 82%, from $3.65 million to $650,000.

The Centers were originally developed in the 1980s with bipartisan support because of the service and expertise they provide as data collectors, analyzers and subject matter experts. If they're eliminated, “We'' would of a lot of fundamental climate services,” Tim Brown Research Professor Climatology Director Western Regional Climate Center told PopSci. “That includes information for decision makers for drought, fires and floods, and impacts, on transportation and human health, water supplies, energy and disaster management planning, all of these areas the regional climate center program supports.”

On a more concrete level this includes banal information, such as yesterday's temperature high and low—that's Regional Climate Center Data. More critically, if we're talking fires, this also means the loss of Western Based US Drought Monitoring Author which adds to the weekly drought map that government uses to allocate drought relief as well as an early drought warning system—i.e. the conditions which can precede wildfires.

Tanker Drop on California's Grant

Tanker Drop on California's Grant Fire.

Richard Perloff/ US Forest Service

Across the border from the United States, fires are also currently scorching Canada's British Columbia. This is the province's second worst fire season on record and NASA satellites have identified the conflagration from space. It's unsurprising that the smoke is billowing over the border into nearby Seattle in Washington state which is also under a heat advisory. On Thursday, the city hit a record breaking 94 degrees at the Seattle Tacoma airport. The regular high for the region at this time of year is 77 degrees. Between the heat and the fact that the region has been, according to US Drought Monitor is unnaturally dry that wildfires are knocking on their door is unsurprising.


On the other side of the globe, if you load up the European Commission's fire map, it looks like the end of the world, especially in Italy and Romania. So far, an area just slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island has burned. The total is already roughly three times the normal amount of summer wildfires. Back in June, 60 people died over the course of one weekend in Portugal due to wildfires. Thirty people were killed when the fires reached roads on evacuation routes. And as the map makes clear, those fires don't seem to be abating.

Wildfires are also plaguing Sibera in Russia, an image NASA has managed to capture on satellite footage, along with large swathes of Brazil.

European Union, current situation wildfires. You can [click here]( to use the interactive version.

European Union, current situation wildfires. You can click here to use the interactive version.

European Union

Siberian wildfires as seen from satellite imagery.

Siberian wildfires as seen from satellite imagery.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC.


According to European news reports, researchers are saying that climate change is to blame, as warmer temperatures have extended the regions fire season, potentially making weather like this increasingly the region's new normal.

Back in the United States, some of the fires will continue to blaze until at least October, based on data in the Incident Information System.

As for Australia, don't worry - our time will come soon enough.

comments powered by Disqus
Sign up for the Pop Sci newsletter
Australian Popular Science
PopSci Live