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2015 wildfire season could be Alaska's worst ever
by Brooks Hays
Fairbanks, Alaska (UPI) Jul 27, 2015

Wildfire ravages 1,200 hectares of land in Spain
Barcelona (AFP) July 27, 2015 - A wildfire raging in Spain's northeastern region of Catalonia on Monday has destroyed over 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land and forced the evacuation of some 800 people, local officials said.

The fire, which broke out on Sunday near the town of Odena some 70 kilometres (40 miles) west of Barcelona, was still out of control but authorities said weaker winds and rising humidity were helping slow its advance.

The blaze was started accidentally by a 59-year-old farmer when he was using a straw-chopping machine, the regional government of Catalonia said in a statement.

The man voluntarily turned himself to police station on Monday and was charged.

The wildfire has burned a total of 1,235 hectares of land as of 1:30 pm (1130 GMT), the statement said.

Local officials on Sunday evacuated two residential complexes, several restaurants and an animal refuge.

Around 800 people were evacuated and 124 spent the night in sports complexes, local firefighters said.

In the northwestern region of Galicia another wildfire near the town of Navia de Suarna was stabilised late on Sunday after ravaging 431 hectares of a nature reserve.

Firefighters battled a total of 11 blazes on Sunday in five regions -- Andalusia in the southwest; Asturias, Galicia and Castile and Leon in the north, and Catalonia in the northeast.

Since July 19 wildfires have ravaged nearly 39,000 hectares of land in Spain, according to the provisional figures from the agriculture ministry.

There are currently 300 fires burning in Alaska, many of them slow and smoldering -- but alive, nonetheless. Some 4.75 million acres have already burned. Even more acreage has been consumed by fire in Canada.

Though not necessarily violent and fast moving, Alaska's wildfires have done serious damage. Researchers suggest the 2015 wildfire season could be Alaska's worst in history. And scientists now worry the state's unique brand of wildfires could be especially detrimental to the climate.

"It's really a different kind of fire," Teresa Hollingsworth, a researcher and ecology professor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told NPR.

As Hollingsworth explains, many of the state's fires are burning seven feet deep, having moved on from the trees, grasses and shrubs above the surface. That's a problem, as lots and lots of carbon is stored in the biomass found in the soil and permafrost below ground.

Scientists with the USGS are monitoring Alaska's wildfires and trying to better understand what the implications are for climate change.

"In a big fire year, like 2004 or what's happening now, about 0.2 percent of the carbon stored in Alaska is released," Dave McGuire, a research scientist at Fairbanks and leader of the USGS Alaska Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, explained in a recent press release. "The carbon released from fire emissions during a large fire year in Alaska is roughly equivalent to 1 percent of the global fossil fuel and land use emissions."

McGuire and his colleagues are set to publish a study on carbon sequestration in Alaska this fall. Their work will offer new models for predicting future wildfire seasons in Alaska, as well as new maps detailing Alaska's carbon reserves.

While the forthcoming study my offer a more accurate picture of how much carbon is lost with each fire, it may not provide clarity to the larger debate about what wildfire mean for climate models.

Some scientists believe the carbon lost to the atmosphere as permafrost is burned will be compensated for my the ecosystem. Soggy vegetation newly released from ice can spawn new growth -- hardwood trees that can absorb more carbon.

Naturally, not everyone agrees.

"The atmosphere thought it lost that carbon and all of a sudden it's being returned to the atmosphere after a prolonged period of time," said Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph in Canada. "That's the kind of carbon pulse to the atmosphere that actually can invoke additional climate change, above and beyond human emissions."

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France forest fire spreads, firefighters step up fight
Saint-Jean-D'Illac, France (AFP) July 26, 2015
A forest fire raging in southwestern France was again advancing on Sunday afternoon because of strong winds, even as efforts to put out one of the country's worst fires in five years were considerably stepped up. The fire, which erupted Friday afternoon and spread quickly because of strong winds, has now consumed nearly 550 hectares (1,360 acres) - the equivalent of about 550 rugby fields - ... read more

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