Scale of the Wildfire Problem

"Every year, wildfires burn millions of hectares of forest woodlands and other vegetation, causing the loss of many human and animal lives and an immense economic damage, both in terms of resources destroyed and the costs of suppression. There are also impacts on society and the environment – for example, damage to human health from smoke, loss of biological diversity, release of  greenhouse gases, damage to recreational values and infrastructure.


There is evidence from some regions that the trend is towards more fires affecting a larger area and burning with greater intensity, while the risk of fire may be increasing under climate change in association with land-use changes and institutional constrains on sustainable forest and fire management." (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA))

Above is a NASA depiction of fires around the globe between September 2003 and March 2004. If we focus on the US to try and understand the scale of the problem, we can use the statistics of fires that spread across 50 thousand acres and more (large fires), in the histogram below. We can also use the statistics of all fires that took place in the US between 2008 and 2018, to the right (both from the Fire Interagency Fire Center).

Additionally, wildfires around the world are problematic to be suppressed under extreme conditions. Despite investing vast amount of resources trying to prevent and contain them, experienced personnel and specialised tools can do little to control them with today's technologies. Water dropped onto the flames evaporates and can even drive the combustion further, adding more oxygen to the ignition cycle; chemicals are poisonous to the environment; and both water and chemicals can be hard to drop onto high flames both due to winds that take them away while in the air and due to inability to fly low enough above a raging fire that produces elevated temperatures.