one green planet
one green planet

The world is recklessly ignoring the full impact of wildfire, putting us all in danger. What Lies Beneath: The Hidden Truth About Wildfire, published by Dryad Networks, is a new report examining the full impacts of wildfires and, more importantly, reveals what could be avoided and what that would mean for us.

During wildfire season, headline news showed dramatic images, but wildfire season is like any other, it seems to not have a pattern anymore. Trapped in a vicious feedback loop, wildfires accelerate climate change with the amount of COthey emit, and climate change, in turn, creates the perfect conditions of dry soil and dry vegetation for wildfires to be spread quickly, get out of control, and destroy everything in their wake.

Eight of the worst wildfire seasons on record occurred in the last decade, and if temperatures were to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius, humanity would be dealing with such long droughts that vital food supplies, such as rice, maize and soybean would be dramatically reduced and could lead to a shortage of basic foods.

And that’s not all. Sea levels would rise 48 centimeters, and it is terrifying to think that that would displace 46 million people around the world.

Here, we look at the full impacts of wildfires on our lives, including the full environmental impact, health hazards on humans, and deaths and financial costs to states and countries.

And more importantly, we look at what it will mean for us, as humans, if wildfires were detected within minutes instead of the 6 hours on average it currently takes.

Fire fighting helicopter carry water bucket to extinguish the forest fire

Source: Toa55/Shutterstock

1. Environment


Wildfires are becoming more widespread, burning twice as much tree cover today as they did 20 years ago. But when it comes to measuring their environmental impact, they are written off as a carbon neutral ‘natural phenomenon’, which is a massive mistake. Whilst 20 percent of wildfires are caused by lightning, 80 percent of them are human-induced and caused either by arson, reckless behavior, accidents or technical faults. They should be included in countries’ CO2 inventories.


The truth of the matter is that wildfires are responsible for between 6-8 billion tons of CO emissions, which represents 20 percent of global greenhouse emissions. This staggering amount is equal to that of all transport worldwide. Wildfires play a significant and detrimental part in climate change, and it is predicted that they could be the source of 30 percent of CO2 emissions by the end of the century.

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With ultra-early detection in place worldwide, 3.9m hectares of forest could be saved from burning, preventing 1.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2030.

2. Biodiversity


The environmental damage is not just in the ozone layer, it is closer to home, where fauna and flora pay a high price to wildfire disasters. When trees, plants, and flowers are burning, it is our whole ecosystem that is being destroyed.


If some animals are lucky enough to survive the fires, they are left with no habitat or food supply and must seek new unburnt territories to re-settle in. As an example, close to 3 billion animals were killed or displaced by wildfires in Australia in 2019/20 alone.

The time needed for fauna and flora to recover from wildfires can be measured in decades. Not adequately protecting this land is also at odds with the agreement of protecting 30 percent of land by 2030, agreed at COP15 at the end of last year.

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By preventing forests from burning, we can preserve the homes of millions of species, animal, and vegetal. By reducing the detection time of wildfires from hours to minutes, ultra-early detection aims to prevent 3.9m hectares of forest from burning, allowing thousands of species to remain in their thriving natural environments, supporting our own survival in the chain.

3. Health


Health is another area that is rarely considered nor studied when measuring the impact of wildfires and represents another gap in the true cost of wildfires.

It is often thought that only people living in rural areas or near zones considered at risk will have their health impacted by wildfire events. But smoke and ashes can travel thousands of miles, meaning any of us can be affected by a wildfire just by the air we breathe.


Wildfires can cause burns, decreased lung function, pulmonary inflammation, and the exacerbation of asthma and cardiovascular diseases, the latter being the most common long-term effects on health caused by wildfires. People with pre-existing respiratory and heart conditions are the most impacted.

It is reported that 6.2 million people have been affected by wildfires and volcanic activities between 1998-2017 (World Health Organization), with 2,400 attributable deaths from suffocation, injuries, and burns.

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To avoid people living with long-term conditions because of breathing polluted air, detection can prevent wildfires from growing and spreading. Dryad sensors can detect fires at the smoldering stage and long before the smoke can reach above the canopy, greatly reducing how far it can travel, and, therefore significantly limiting the damage done to our lungs.

4. Global Economy


We cannot put a price on our health, on the ecosystem that sustains us, or the air we breathe, but we can put a price on wildfires when it comes to measuring the destruction they leave in their paths and what it takes to rebuild whole areas destroyed by the flames. The direct and indirect financial costs of wildfires rank in the billions and are putting a huge strain on local and national economies.


As an example, the 2018 wildfires in California cost the US economy $148.5 billion. It wasn’t just California that was impacted by these costs, as $45.9 billion was lost outside the state.

These amounts include economic disruption to 80 industry sectors, including power transmission, road and rail freight transport and other infrastructure-dependent sectors.

Alongside these disruptions come the costs of insurance claims. They have risen to around $10 billion per year as opposed to that amount for the entire period between 2010 and 2019.

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Ultra-early detection can save billions of dollars to the global economy by saving buildings that won’t need rebuilding, reducing, if not eradicating, the need to rehouse humans and animals, and by reducing the number of insurance claims related to wildfires.

In the US alone, firefighting costs reached 3.7 billion dollars in 2022. If wildfires are caught before spreading, firefighters will need less resources which will reduce the cost by billions, and firefighters will also benefit by being exposed to less danger.

What Can Be Done?

It is time to hold governments to account and demand that they turn their investment into detection instead of suppression of wildfires so that millions of hectares of forest can be saved.

Governments, utility companies, forest owners, and managers need to work together on a global level to unlock the critical level of investment and attention needed on detection and prevention to address the issue of wildfire once and for all.

It is wonderful to see that in the US, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it will use President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to expand efforts made to reduce wildfire risks across the western US. The investments are aimed at the most at-risk communities and at the following states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.

With proven technology that already exists, we need to keep an eye out to ensure these crucial investments do land in our forests, protecting us all from one of climate change’s biggest perpetrators.

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