He tenerife fire it would not have been so voracious or destructive without climate change. The heat wave The extraordinary situation prior to the great fire – and the episodes of high temperatures that have occurred throughout the summer on the Island – have created the right conditions to fan the flames of this fire that has affected more than 14,700 hectares of the Forest Crown. The first sixth generation fire it faces Canary Islands It represents a before and after in the management of these episodes in the Archipelago, as it corroborates what many had been stubborn in denying. We are no longer facing forecasts or scientific hypotheses that try to shed light on a distant future: climate change is already a reality.
Pedro Dorta, geographer of the Chair of Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilient Cities of the University of La Laguna (ULL), shows prudence when relating both phenomena directly: «Ascribing a specific event to climate change is very complicated». Specifically, a complex attribution study would have to be carried out to accurately relate both phenomena. «Fires There has always been in the Canary Islands, what climate change does is create conditions that favor the development of fire, “he says.
In this sense, Omaira García, an atmospheric physicist at the Izaña Atmospheric Research Center, of the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet), whose facilities barely escaped the flames, also manifested. She points out that a fire as virulent as the one that has devastated part of Mount Tenerife “has not been caused by climate change”, but its voracity is born as a consequence of global warming.
The damage of a “monster”
For José Miguel Viñas, Meteored meteorologist, this great fire would not have been “impossible” without the climatic conditions to which global warming has pushed the planet, but he considers that it would be “very unlikely” for it to occur under normal conditions. For Viñas, without climate change it would be very difficult for a “monster” to develop like the one that has burned thousands of hectares of Mount Tenerife.
That the fires could be more virulent due to climate change is one of the forecasts that emanate from various reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “One of the consequences is that there are more heat waves and that these are more intense and lasting,” explains García, who insists on the direct relationship that does exist between these episodes of high temperatures and the fires.
This year the Archipelago has experienced it without any kind of palliative. The days before the fire, the Canary Islands experienced a record heat wave. In total, during the five days that the extreme temperatures lasted, up to 40 historical series records were broken: 21 maximums and 19 minimums. And in the latter is the key. “This means that instead of cooling, it is increasingly common to live torrid or even hellish nights, with episodes of up to 25 or 30 degrees,” reveals García, who insists that “these conditions do not help.”
In addition to the danger generated by the increase in temperatures, what is most worrying is the duration of these heat waves. “This causes the fires, if they occur, to also last for more days,” insists the atmospheric physicist, who recalls that the fire that Tenerife has suffered “has taken more than a week to be considered stabilized.” Something totally unusual.
The triple 30 rule
The climatic reality has prevailed in the Canary Islands. If it is much hotter – and for a longer time – and it rains less – or it rains torrentially for fewer days – the risk of an innocent spark turning into a violent fire is greater. It should be remembered that the one in Tenerife is not the first to be produced this year. The fire was first fed with 2,900 hectares near Puntagorda, in La Palma. “In the two fires, the conditions of what we know as the 30-30-30 rule occurred,” explains García. Namely, more than 30 degrees of temperature, less than 30% humidity and a wind that blows at more than 30 kilometers per hour.
However, for Dorta, climate change is not the only thing that has played a leading role in this fire. There have been many factors that have led to its rapid spread, starting with the place where it originated –with an inaccessible orography– and the state of the forest environment. And it is that the “agricultural abandonment” that the Canary Islands have suffered in recent years has caused the llamas to find a mountain loaded with “fuel”, which has made it expand without brake. “Agricultural abandonment is a reality and a risk factor,” insists Dorta.
A power on a global scale
That of Tenerife is just one more example of the power that fires are acquiring on a global scale due to the increase in temperatures that is already 1.2 degrees compared to the pre-industrial period. Canada, the two coasts of the United States, Greece or Hawaii have been victims of this new generation of fires. The sixth, as experts have called it. What it means is, basically, “that the fires come to generate their own microclimate, so they do not follow the logic of meteorology”, as Viñas reveals.
This means that their movements become unpredictable and their behavior is, as defined in a press conference by the president of the Cabildo de Tenerife, Rosa Davila, “erratic”. “The fire creates local winds different from the prevailing ones, which creates a mess in the planning of extinction of the fire,” Viñas insists. This is what makes these fires especially bloody, since the extinction tasks can endanger the lives of the troops. «A few years ago in Portugal, the fire took an unexpected turn. He returned to the place to which the authorities had asked the population to flee. There were dozens of deaths,” summarizes Viñas.
The Canary Islands will have to assume this new reality sooner rather than later. Fires as violent as the one that the extinction forces are beginning to consider stabilized in Tenerife –after 8 days– will be increasingly possible. “We are seeing it in many parts of the world,” recalls José Miguel Viñas, Meteored meteorologist.
Perhaps due to the difficulties involved in sixth-generation fires and the complexity of the Canarian orography, the researchers consider the management of this fire on the island to be a “success”. “There have been no injuries or deaths, not even houses affected,” says Dorta, who recalls that this fire has been exclusively forestry. The researchers only have words of gratitude for the firefighting forces because they know that the task ahead of them was not easy from minute one.
After the stabilization of the fire, the investigators believe that it is time to reflect. “All we are experiencing are warnings, but we continue to live the same, as if climate change were not with us,” warns Dorta, who insists that “we should start getting used to these kinds of fires occurring.” Among scientists there is a consensus that the key is prevention, that is, preventing the fire from occurring. However, they also agree that the necessary technological tools must be put into operation to have a structure that, “in the event that there is even the slightest focus, can work to tackle it in time,” Viñas points out.
In this sense, Omaira García points out that the installation of thermal monitoring systems at the Izaña Atmospheric Research Center is being considered to warn of “hot spots”. Dorta adds that agriculture should be favored in order to compensate for the damage caused by the abandonment of the forest environment. However, the most important reflection that must come out of this fire is, as Dorta emphasizes, “seriously believing that climate change is affecting us and that we are going to face situations that we have never experienced before.”
The La Palma volcano, in 2021, was a before and after for emergency management in the Canary Islands. The intricate emergency has provided the necessary tools to the Government of the Canary Islands to be able to manage emergencies through science. On this occasion, as was the case on Isla Bonita during the eruption of Tajogaite, the Executive has also received advice from a Scientific Committee, in this case smaller and made up of fewer institutions than the one on La Palma, but with a clear objective of basing the decisions that were taken during the emergency on the scientific knowledge available in the Archipelago. The committee