The bushfires raging in Australia have ravaged large parts of New South Wales. They also serve to highlight that sometimes a theoretical new word can become real in devastating ways.
The term Mega-Fire appears to have been coined two years ago, and though some fires began to be described in this way immediately, it was more of a theory than anything else. A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization used the term, and said that the definition is more to do with the impact on people and the environment than their specific size.
But in many ways, it was just a theory then. Robert Keane, a research ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, said: “Mega-fire is more of a concept than a construct. What I interpret it to mean is not only is it large, but it affects a lot of people.”
Now of course it is anything but theoretical, as fire continues to take hold in Australia and the term Mega-Fire is all over the headlines.
What I think is particularly interesting is that this is really a technical term and will continue to be used to describe a particular scale and type of fire. At first, it was easy to assume it was a shorthand coined by journalists to boost headlines. But it isn’t, and is something that has a specific meaning for those whose job it is to fight and contain such disasters.
If our climate is changing and fires are going to get worse, this year will not be the only time that mega-fires dominate the news.