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Before US West Coast, the world's major wildfires

  • Published at 04:40 pm September 12th, 2020
California fire
File photo: Firefighters trying to extinguish a fire, in Alpene, California on September 6, 2020 Reuters

The wildfires were mostly the result of arson and directly linked to deforestation

As US firefighters battle sprawling wildfires along the West Coast, here are some of the other major fires to have raged around the world over the past three decades.

2019-2020: Australia 

Fanned by strong winds, heatwave temperatures and a dry vegetation, bush fires ravaged vast areas of Australia's east coast from September 2019.

In the southeast, entire towns in New South Wales and Victoria were wiped from the map just before New Year.

In January 2020, the federal capital Canberra, threatened by flames, was placed on a state of alert. The flames were finally extinguished by heavy rains in mid-February.

A firefighter is seen as New South Wales Rural Fire Service personnel conduct a controlled burn to eliminate fuels before the upcoming bushfire season, in the Arcadia suburb of Sydney, Australia, September 8, 2020 /Reuters

At least 33 people died and 2,500 houses were destroyed. Some 11.5 million hectares -- an area bigger than Portugal -- went up in smoke.

According to the official investigation the fires were clearly fanned by global warming.

2019: Siberia 

Gigantic forest fires rage every year on vast remote swathes of Siberia, Russia. In 2019, they were bigger than ever, stoking fears of long term environmental damage, including the melting of the Arctic ice.

In early August, with more than three million hectares in flames, President Vladimir Putin decided to send in the army to put out the fires, the smoke from which reached some of Siberia's most populous cities.

2019: Amazon 

In August, 2019, 30,900 fires were recorded in the Brazilian Amazon, an increase of 200% from the previous year and the highest figure registered for nine years.

Sao Paulo, the megacity a thousand kilometres away, was covered by a thick cloud of smoke.

File photo:  A Brazilian fire brigade member attempts to control a fire in a tract of the Amazon jungle, in Apui, Amazonas State on  August 11, 2020 /Reuters

The wildfires prompted an outpouring of emotion around the world.

They were mostly the result of arson and directly linked to deforestation, which in 2019 reached an exceptional level of 917,800 hectares.

2015: Indonesia

Indonesia in 2015 experienced its worst fires in two decades. Between July and October thousands of fires in forests and farmland ravaged the archipelago, particularly the regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Nineteen people were killed and 1.7 million hectares of land reduced to ashes.

These fires, mostly illegally lit to clear land for agriculture such as palm oil plantations, smothered the region in a giant cloud of smoke and caused a serious diplomatic crisis with neighbouring countries. 

2010: Russia 

At least 60 people died in fires that raged for weeks from August 2010 in western Russia, destroying whole villages and spreading a pall of smoke over the capital Moscow. The fires threatened several nuclear plants, including that of Sarov, some 500 kilometres from Moscow.

1996: Mongolia 

In early 1996, gigantic fires -- considered the worst of the 20th century -- ravaged two thirds of Mongolia for more than three months, killing 26.

Fourteen of the country's 21 provinces were hit by the fires which destroyed 3.7 million hectares of forest and seven million hectares of pastureland.

1994: United States 

Wildfires that burned in the western United States over four weeks from July 6 to August 9, 1994 claimed 20 lives and ravaged a million hectares of land in several states, including California, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and the state of Washington.

The heaviest toll was recorded on July 6, when 14 firefighters were killed after being trapped by flames at Glenwood Springs in Colorado.