Climate change fuels sizzling, tinder-dry conditions, increasing the need for fire-prone countries to adopt preventative measures, according to experts Wednesday.
Smart, proactive actions - such as setting fires at the end of rainy periods to reduce blazes during hot and dry spells - may aid in reducing the danger, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Wildfires are a growing threat, and how the world may better adapt to these changing situations:
Why are wildfire threats so high?
Wildfires' size and destructive capacity - whether they were initiated on purpose, accidentally, or by natural phenomena such as lightning - depends largely on the weather, how much fuel is available to burn, as well as where the fire breaks out.
Scientists warn that as climate change brings severe weather, threats are increasing.
"The planet's heating is turning landscapes into tinderboxes, while extreme weather means stronger, warmer, dry winds to ignite flames," the report said.
"Uncontrollable and destructive wildfires are becoming an early part of our seasonal schedule," the author adds.
Setting intentional fires to clear undergrowth is becoming more difficult in some countries as homes expand into wooded fire-risk areas or as fire-suppression policies are favoured, indicating that the amount of fuel available to fires is increasing.
What is the danger of wildfires today?
Just about everywhere is land to burn. In January, the state of Colorado lost more than 1,000 homes and received half a billion dollars in damage as unprecedented fires wreaked through urban areas north of Denver.
Australia, the West Coast, Canada, and other parts of southern Europe, among others, have long been known for their seasonal wildfires. However, fire risk is now rising in areas from Syria to Siberia and India, according to scientists.
Both because governments facing fires may have less experience managing them, but because fires release the carbon stored in trees into the atmosphere, fueling climate warming, and reducing the future area of carbon-absorbing forests.
Fires can also cause air pollution and other health problems, which are affecting rainfall as moisture-producing trees disappear, burn crops and destroy nature, as well as health problems and potential job losses for those living near them.
If forested lands are ravaged by fire, companies and governments are taking steps to mitigate their climate-changing emissions by paying to protect and expand forests.
What consequences might it be in the future?
Scientists predict that the type of "catastrophic" fires that once happened about every 100 years will become 1.5 to 1.5 times more frequent by the turn of the century.
Fires in Australia's Victoria state were set to a fire in 1851, according to Andrew Sullivan, a bushfire expert at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Canberra.
Sullivan, one of Australia's most nocturnal events in the fire season between 2019 and 2020, described a similar fire as a result of a disproportionate number of more common fires.
Catastrophic-scale fires may occur anywhere, according to the author - from distant stretches of boreal forest in Siberia to more traditional fire-risk areas.
Some might be particularly hazy, such as those found in tropical rainforests or other ecosystems where seasonal fires aren't a natural event, therefore plants and animals are not less likely to be exposed to fire and may struggle to recover.
"It's not normal to have fires in rainforests," says Glynis Humphrey, a plant conservation expert at the University of Cape Town and a report author.
What can be done to reduce the prospect of fire hazards?
Portugal's fire risk increased more than two decades ago as land migration to cities left more land unattended, allowing flammable undergrowth to accumulate.
After devastating wildfires, authorities began reviewing the country's land management, stumbling in to revitalize rural economies, bringing people back to them, reducing fire hazards.
"Portugal is probably the best example in the world at the moment," said Peter Moore, a fire management specialist with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), referring to preventative policy actions.
Countries in South Africa and Namibia are increasing the use of fuel-clearing fires at the end of the rainy season in order to reduce the number of fires during the cold and dry seasons.
Other fire-prone areas - from Australia to the western United States - are attempting to adopt traditional fire management techniques.
According to the report, such efforts to move away from suppressing fires to regularly employing controlled ones are a prerequisite for reducing the risks of catastrophic fires.
"It's been a lot of effort for decades on fire suppression and fire prevention. I think we're at a starting point," Humphrey said.
Despite the fact that most governments today spend far more time fighting fires than researching ways to better prepare and manage them, the researchers say. This is a losing game as climate change drives bigger, more frequent, and more costly fires.
"Too often our response is tardy, costly, and after the fact, many countries are suffering from a chronic lack of investment in planning and prevention," the report said.