Mega Fires: Beyond Extinction
This project seeks to illustrate the circumstances surrounding the mega fires devastating Spain by generating a central guide to this phenomenon, presenting the new fire behavior and explaining its consequences on the land and the people. It will also compile the strategies for combating and living alongside them; unearth how ecosystems recover and utilize them; and share the solution projects mitigating their proliferation. As always, the project will tell these stories through photo, video and graphic resources as the main tool. Because seeing is essential to understanding.
Conversations #01: What is a mega fire?
Fuelling a Mega Fire
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4 May 2023
The Iberian Peninsula is among the territories in Europe most affected by forest fires. In the midst of a climate crisis that results in more intense and prolonged droughts, the behavior of large fires has raised fears that Spain and Portugal are entering a new era of fire activity. In 2022, both countries led the list by number of fires and destroyed territory in Europe, with approximately 427,768 hectares burned due to 2,726 fires (315,705 hectares in Spain and 112,063 in Portugal)*. The weather conditions both countries are experiencing have foreshadowed even more turbulent fire seasons in the future.
We started this project with countless unanswered questions on a topic as intricate as it is ever-evolving. Our first step was to spend six months researching and building a close network of experts. Now we have more questions than ever, but a far better clue as to how to approach such a complex phenomenon through visual journalism.
In the decades since fire records began, much has changed across the Iberian Peninsula: the environment, land use, forestry and environmental protocols, legislation, demographics, temperatures, and precipitation rates. As a result, the way fires behave has also changed. Large, destructive forest fires are becoming more frequent; At the same time, they bring greater complexities when it comes to controlling and extinguishing them.
For these reasons and as they are one of today’s most critical environmental challenges, we have decided to focus this project on mega fires: a destructive and often misunderstood force, prematurely thrusting the Iberian Peninsula into a new chapter of firefighting. A note: While there is no international consensus on the specifications of a mega fire, for the purpose of this report, and under the guidance of leading experts, we will define them as fires that burn an area of more than 5,000 hectares or emit more than 10,000 kilowatts of energy per square meter.
The structural causes of these mega fires are varied yet intrinsically linked, inflamed by the pervasive reach of a worsening climate crisis acting as a catalyst and an accelerator. Mega Fires: Beyond Extinction delves, through visual journalism, into the causes and consequences of mega fires and the work being done to counter them.
This project seeks to illustrate the circumstances surrounding the mega fires devastating the territory by generating a central guide to this phenomenon, presenting the new fire behavior and explaining its consequences on the land and the people. It will also compile the strategies for combating and living alongside them; unearth how ecosystems recover and utilize them; and share the solution projects mitigating their proliferation. As always, the project will tell these stories through photo, video and graphic resources as the main tool. Because seeing is essential to understanding.
How do we work?
This project is only possible thanks to the collaboration of experts and, above all, the community of partners who support our visual journalism on the climate crisis.
We are a small non-profit media outlet specializing in long-form journalism. Our primary means of financing is through donations: the project is already underway, but we need support to complete it.
If you are interested in mega fires and the climate crisis and want to support the development of this project, you can become a monthly or annual member (or make a one-time donation) here.
Director: Mikel Konate | Text: Lily Mayers | Video: Pablo Tosco, Mikel Konate and Simón Casal | Photography: Pablo Tosco and Santi Palacios | Design and illustration: Jorge Mileto | Text editing: Maribel Izcue | Data analysis and visualization: Javi Aparicio | Photography and video assistant: Júlia Cussó | Web development: Full Circle | Production: Sonda International.
*Data on the number of fires and burnt areas has been sourced from the annual report by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS)
*This piece has been updated on September 25, 2023.