Get To Know Unbelievable Facts About Wildfires | Kidadl


Get To Know Unbelievable Facts About Wildfires

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We all know the extreme California forest fires, and the burning of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, which caused a huge loss of forest cover.

It is assumed that climate change will induce more forest fires and pose a greater risk for the environment and humanity. Recently, there have been more frequent wildfires.

What are these wildfires? How do they occur and spread? What can be done to curb the frequency and intensity of wildfire and lower wildfire risk? Do we need quick steps to mitigate the crisis?

Let us find answers to all these questions below and learn something about wildfire risk. This will help us be responsible and act wisely whenever we are around nature.

Causes of Wildfires

A wildfire can be defined as a fire that breaks out and spreads rapidly within an area of combustible biotic life. It can be seen in forests and grasslands where a good amount of vegetation is involved. Once a fire begins, this vegetation causes it to spread and intensify into a wildfire. Lets looks at some causes of wildfires.

This type of fire can be further classified as wildland fire, forest fires, bushfires, peat fires, and desert fires, and these types depend on the vegetation and location of the fire.

If the conditions are right for the fire to spread, and there is enough heat, wildfire may even lead to massive destruction of forests, wildlife, animals, and birds, or even humans.

The causes of wildfires are due to both the activities of humans and that of nature.

Let us elaborate on each cause and learn the reasons behind it. Discarded cigarettes are one of the easiest ways of starting a wildfire. For instance, manmade wildfires cause 84% of wildfires.

In 2020, there was a headline that said it was the ‘worst year in history for wildfire’, because that year witnessed wildfires in Brazil, Australia, and the U.S., such as the Cal fire. They have shown massive destruction of wildlife and animals.

Many scientists say that that the most concerning cause of wildfires is the climate catastrophe, which many say is manmade. Let us understand what human activities lead to causing wildfires.

According to various studies and surveys, a lot of wildfires are caused due to human activities. One such common cause is the traditional method of agriculture known as the slash and burn method. It is also called shifting cultivation in many areas.

Farmers and agricultural producers who are in search of new land decide to burn the existing land of vegetation. This barren land is now used to cultivate farm produce. Eventually, the land loses its fertility due to excessive farming and improper agricultural practises and farmers seek a new piece of land and move there. They repeat this method and find new lands for farming. Thus the land, when burnt, causes wildfires and might even spread to large areas.

Another reason for wildfires due to the careless actions of humans is the disposal of waste, especially cigarette butts. There are thousands of smokers who throw away their cigarette butts after smoking. Many times, the cigarette butts are still warm or burning and that tiny spark or heat source is enough to burn an entire forest. It is said that cigarette butts are the prime cause of manmade wildfires. It is the smokers' negligence that causes the environment to pay a price for it.

Another cause of human-induced wildfires is fireworks. Amateurs and irresponsible people use fireworks in their surroundings without any precautions. The ignition of the firework causes tiny particles to spread, and this can burn a large area or even endanger human and animal life. There are many incidents of injuries and lives claimed due to fireworks.

Another major cause is campfires, one of the beloved activities of camp lovers. But, if the campfire is not doused properly, it will be left burning and might cause a wildfire. It is advisable to light campfires in areas of clear vegetation and empty land, and the campfire must be put out with water.

The wildfire risk due to woodland burn during wildfire season is very common. Even climate change during the wildfire season brings a risk of wildfire. Most wildfires in the western states are due to heat in the air that will spontaneously combust the surroundings, putting millions of acres of land at risk. Firefighters try to control the heat, and the fire triangle is a concept used to understand it better. The fire triangle represents the three ingredients that must be present for a fire to start: heat, fuel, and an oxidizing agent. Fire protection and fire safety all teach about the fire triangle and how to deal with fuel, flames, and wind. Fuel is very dangerous when exposed to the open air. Fuel can spontaneously combust and will blaze into flames, and the blaze will be hard to control.

Sometimes, adjoining areas of forests are used for machinery and the automobile sector. Thus a neglected accident or a spark can also cause wildfire and burn the adjoining forest. The use of combustible materials and gases and irresponsible behavioral actions of the staff handling these units can cause forest fires. The practise of burning debris is also a leading cause of wildfire. Strong wind flows might induce the fires and cause sparks to blow in the wind and land in multiple places.

There are certain natural causes that trigger forest fires in the wild. One such cause is dry lightning. Due to zero precipitation, lightning strikes can produce a spark that may start a fire within forests. Areas with less humidity are dry and some areas are extremely dry. There are drought conditions prevailing in the area where moisture is least available in both ground and air due to drought. This drought leads to the drying up of vegetation and this is an ideal condition to start fires and due to the dry climate, the fire spreads fast. For instance, dry lightening strikes in 2020 caused a Cal fire siege.

The Washington Labor Day fires in the same year caused immense damage, and these were due to downed power lines caused by high winds.

One natural disaster that may lead to wildfires is volcanic eruptions. These are highly destructive and cause forest fires. The burning lava bursting out of the volcano can spread to forests and burn them down. Such wildfires are highly catastrophic and out of human control.

Thus the cause of wildfires may vary from place to place. But these above-mentioned are the prime causes that might lead to a wildfire. There is a need to draft an action plan for mitigation of the wildfire crisis and a new behavioral action agenda to prevent wildfires.

Consequences of Wildfires

According to World Health Organization reports and statistics, wildfires and volcanoes have affected around 6.2 million people between the years 1998-2017. The intensity and frequency of wildfires are increasing tremendously due to climate change.

The heating up of the Earth due to climate change results in an increased risk of wildland fires. These forest fires and wildland fires also pose a threat to the environment because of their risk in devastating huge natural resources and also having an impact on weather. Wildland fires cause huge amounts of burning gases, like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and fine particulate matter are released in the sky and remain in the atmosphere. These toxic elements in the air can cause health hazards for living creatures who breathe in the same atmosphere.

Wildfires lead to the destruction of homes and wildlife, plants and vegetation loss, and extinction of endangered species. This causes millions of dollars to be spent on rebuilding the loss and damage. The soil and its fertility are also completely destroyed. Nutrients in the soil decay and lose their water-holding capacity.

Animals and birds who many not know how to react quickly and save themselves are caught in the large flames of fire and often lose their lives.

The loss of trees and shrubs, bushes, and plants is also saddening. It has taken centuries for these forests to grow, which protect and stabilize the weather on earth, and support biodiversity and the ecosystem on land. But it takes a day or two to burn down this entire canopy with just a tiny spark of fire. Loss of forest cover means less clean air to breathe and a reduced survival rate of many species of plants and animals.

The time required to inform firefighters and disaster-management teams and get them to travel to the wildfires are enough for wildland fire to spread across acres of forests. Gallons of water is often needed to put out this wildland fire and this excess of water also leads to soil erosion.

Wildfire emits huge quantities of smoke and harmful air components that stay in the atmosphere. As we inhale it, it causes a risk to our health, especially at the moment, with coronavirus weakening our immune systems and increasing respiratory problems. There is an increased possibility of getting respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases when smoke and harmful chemicals are inhaled. The burning of forests can also cause difficulty in normal breathing activity.

Ash and smoke released in the air also causes allergies and lung diseases as they may get in our system and cause serious health damage. Continuous exposure to wildfire can also cause serious infections in the throat. This poses a danger for the firefighters who spend hours putting out wild-land fires.

There is a section of the population that depend solely on agricultural and farm income. Wildland fires cause a heavy loss in their incomes by burning down the entire land and million of acres of forest cover. The economy suffers badly and it is a difficult recovery.

Governments and private institutions can provide insurance that may help protect victims from losses. But these premiums can be extremely expensive and often people in need cannot afford them.

The entire area affected by wildfire will need much time to recover and make it safe to inhabit again in a normal way. This halts the normal activities of humans.

The Washington wildfires of March 2021 were particularly severe and the season lasted until October. And last year there were more than 20 active Idaho wildfires, causing immense damage. The Idaho wildfire map of the forestry is the only statewide map available that provides fire information. The Southern California wildfires are an ongoing series of wildfires. The Southern California wildfires have spread and burned across the state of California, with a total of 8,619 fires recorded, burning one million ha (2.5 million acres), with firefighters battling constantly.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, almost 90% of wildfires in the USA are caused by humans, so learning about fire safety is very important.

Wildfire emits huge quantities of smoke

How To Stop Wildfires

The number of wildfires has increased rapidly across the globe and there is an urgent necessity to find solutions to protect the forests from wildland fires. Forest departments have to collectively work together to help conserve forests.

There are a number of easy ways to prevent forest fires. For instance, vehicles are a leading cause of wildfire and people must avoid driving within the proximity of crop residue and extremely vulnerable places, wherever possible. The exhaust temperature is enough to light a spark and ignite the wildfire. Since exhausts are as hot as 1,200 F (649 C) they may ignite particles, or even a worn-out part of the car such as tires, and lead to wildland fire. Thus it is essential to do a checkup of the engine and get your car regularly serviced. 

People should avoid parking in areas with dry grass and within proximity of forest. You should carry a fire extinguisher and a shovel if your car is big enough, to prevent dry grass from burning. At the very least, it is important to carry some water to put out fire in case of emergency situations. If the fire has been caused due to inflammable liquids, then it is advisable to use sand instead of water to put out the fire. 

There must be precautions taken when working with spark-inducing machinery and equipment. Even hot tools are a source of ignition. Safety guidelines must be adhered to while working with such tools and machinery, which pose a risk of wildland fire. A fire extinguisher must be provided to people who use machinery and tools to avoid sparks igniting dry places. It is also best to restrict working with these tools around dry-grass areas as well as during hot weather.

Workers should also clear a space up to 20 ft (6 m) in front of forest land. Misuse and improper handling of farming operations also contribute to wildland fire. Thus, ignorance and lack of safety precautions might help in preventing wildfire.

Once the wildland fire has spread to large areas it becomes next to impossible to manage it. There should be management plans and policies for slash-burning practises that require prior permission from forest authorities and a witness of one person from the forest department to check slash-burning operations are carried out with maximum precautions to avoid any risk of wildland fire.

It is also a good idea for all of us to be aware of weather conditions, which can trigger wildfires. When we think of wildland fire caused by nature, there is a need to understand the weather pattern and forecasts of the particular region. Thus, management authorities and forest departments must develop a forest-monitoring system to manage forests and estimate weather patterns, while analyzing current weather conditions. There are many facilities and forums of engineers that provide these monitoring systems.

Software is capable of producing accurate data from past recordings to predict weather condition and wildland fire risk. Specifically, in forest fires, software can help us analyze the wind pattern and when the ignition rate might be high. Thus, we can study and minimize forest activities and even reschedule activities for a safer date.

People who smoke should also avoid throwing lit cigarettes or cigarette butts or matches, which can be primary sources of ignition. They should never be thrown while they are still burning and they must never be thrown out of a window while traveling. There is a need to use the ashtray and dispose of discarded cigarettes in water to ensure the burning is put out. Even a tiny spark or warm cigarette butt can cause a wildland fire.

The cause of wildland fire is often due to the carelessness and ignorance of humans. These are avoidable if we take proper precautions. Human settlements and inhabitants of forests, and the vicinity, need to be extra cautious about methods of preventing wildland fire. Fire prevention needs to be taken especially seriously by these inhabitants as they might also help in identifying hotspots of wildland fire and be a useful source of collaboration with mitigation departments, who monitor satellite information, and forest and weather data, to prevent forest fires.

Surprising Facts About Wildfires

Lightning strikes the ground around 100,000 times every day globally and, out of these lightening strike, around 10% - 20% cause forest fires. Records in the U.S. have shown that humans are the biggest cause of wildfires. So it won't be shocking to find out that four out of five wildland fires are caused by humans. This leads to the burning of 0.48 million ha (1.2 million acres) of woodland on average in the United States every year. Also, these forest fires are so deadly that they have the potential to change and alter the local weather conditions for a long time period.

There are certain positive things that happen when forest fires occur, however. Lodgepole pines release their seeds only when they are popped open due to fire. Hence sometimes a moderate amount of forest fire can also benefit certain species. For instance, wildland fire can help burn weeds.

Clearance of smaller patches can help prevent large wildfires, providing a fire break, leading to the slow progression of forest fires, or even halting them in their tracks. Forest fires spread rapidly when they are moving uphill. Thus, steeper slopes will cause the fire to spread faster. People living on hills may need to vacate their homes before wildfire starts spreading rapidly.

Mother nature has given incredible survival instincts to animals. In fact, there are many animals who are capable of saving themselves from wildland fires. Thus, forest fires are not as deadly for some animals. They have amazing instincts that will alert them beforehand, so they can protect their offspring and vacate the burning habitat. Animals that suffer the most and are victims of the loss of their population are less-mobile animals.

Forest fires can lead to forest tornadoes and are also called fire whirls. They are a rare event but extremely destructive. Their rapid spread can cause the rapid spread of fires that were witnessed during the California wildfires, and Amazon fires. The rotational velocity of these forests is 90 mph (144.84 kph) and can range up to around 1,000ft (305 m). This leads to the unpredictable speed and direction of forest fires, which poses difficulties for firefighters to tackle. These fire whirls are defined as 'vigorous atmospheric circulations' that are unstable and extremely hot. They contain dry air and swirl in an upward direction.

Hemant Oswal
Written By
Hemant Oswal

<p>With global experience in marketing and business development, Hemant is a seasoned professional with a unique perspective. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Commerce from the University of Delhi and a Master's degree in Marketing from The University of Adelaide in Australia. Hemant's work in China, Hong Kong, and Dubai has honed his skills and provided valuable experience. He broadens his understanding of the world through reading non-fiction books and watching documentaries.</p>

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