A Quick Guide on Forest Fires, Causes, Effects and Solutions
Do you know that in the year 2021, California alone has spent more than 372 million US dollars in suppressing forest fire in its region?
Forest fires or wildfires are described as uncontrolled and unplanned burning of natural vegetation such as forests, bushes, grasses.
Forests play a vital role in our ecosystem. They provide economic benefits as well as ensure the well-being of many species. We cannot ignore their role in maintaining a healthy atmosphere. Unfortunately, the burning of these forests, or forest fire, is threatening the ecosystem.
In recent years wildfires are ravaging forestland all around the globe. From Turkey to Russia, the world is witnessing probably the worst forest fires in decades. As of 10 August 2021, European Forest Fire System (EFFIS) recent statistics shows that around 175,773 ha of land is burned because of forest fire only in Turkey.
After Turkey and Greece, Siberia is battling with its worst fire blazes. It is reported that Siberia’s wildfire is more extensive than all the worlds combined forest fires. Widespread evacuation is under process, followed by the closure of airports and roads for public safety. One of the most problematic consequences of Siberia’s Forest fire is that thick gray Smokey clouds have entered the North Pole.
After Siberia, forest fires are creating havoc in African regions as well. On Wednesday, 11 August 2021, more than 65 people, including 28 soldiers, died in a forest fire in Algeria. With so much destruction around the globe, you must be wondering what is causing all these fires. This article covers an in-depth detail of the causes of wildfires and further highlights the impact of these forest fires. Moreover, we will also be discussing the preventive measures that we can take to control or combat wildfires.
What Causes Forest Fires?
There are two leading causes of forest fires. Let’s look at each of them separately.
1. Natural Causes:
Natural fires mostly start with lightning, but climate change is accelerating these fires. Increase in global world temperature, changes in rain and snowfall pattern means we can expect more forest fires, that will happen more frequently and burn more intensely than in the past.
When temperature increases, the evaporation rate increases further, leaving the vegetation and soil dry, ultimately providing favorable conditions for a fire. Similarly, long-term drought condition causes same impacts.
The burning of the forest is creating a vicious cycle that is impossible to break now. These forest fires release carbon dioxide, which in turn is accelerating the global temperature.
2. Man-Made Causes
Human careless activities like discarding lit cigarettes or campfire accidents are all responsible for causing wildfires. In the US, human activities are a significant cause of forest fires. Many experts claim that humans cause around 84% of wildfires in the US.
Aftermaths of Wildfires
Forest fires have devastating effects on humans, wildlife, and the environment. Let’s separately discuss the impacts on each.
Wildfires release carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution, global warming, and ozone layer depletion. Far-flung countries also get badly affected, as strong winds transfer heavy smoke from one region to another. This heavy smoke directly impacts the air quality of other areas also.
Wildfires have immediate and long-term impacts on water bodies like lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater. After the fire, the soil becomes hydrophobic, which means it loses its ability to absorb water. This lack of absorbability causes the water to take all debris and sediments into larger bodies, further polluting the water bodies with a toxin. Moreover, it disturbs and harms marine life.
Forest fires also disturb the natural flora and fauna of the area where they happen. Countless species of animals die; those who survive usually migrate to other places. As a result, the biodiversity of the region decreases. Many species of plants are lost and are getting extinct.
Wildfires seriously disturb the air quality. With reduced quality of air, many eyes and respiratory tract illness starts getting common. It also gives birth too many other severe diseases like asthma, heart failure, etc. Wildfires release many harmful pollutants into the air, which hurt people. Breathing issues start getting regular, and people with existing breathing problems get more vulnerable. Studies have shown an increased risk of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
Wildfires contaminate water bodies, posing acute and chronic health issues in humans, while cleaning such water sources is costly and time-consuming.
Forest fires also have an economical cost as many people need to be evacuated. Many people lose their homes and jobs. The harmful effects on the farming industry are both short-term and long-term. Loss of vegetation cover and decrease in soil fertility are consequences that affect both the short-run and the long-run.
I am sure everybody is familiar with the fire scene in their childhood movie Bambi. Remember the fire scene! It still gives me shivers. How helpless were those animals trying to escape wildfires?
Many young and adorable animals die. But the disastrous consequences come after the fire is out. The natural habitat is destroyed, and food sources are burned. As more and more forests are burned, many species’ survival is under threat. With enormous fires, tons of insects are getting extinct. This extinction is badly affecting the pollination process. Scientists are unaware of the exact figures, but it is estimated that there is a massive decline in pollinators across the globe.
Some ecologists even predict that koalas might be functionally extinct because of these wildfires. A news report indicated that almost 3 billion animals were affected by Australian wildfire in 2020.
Not only were the land animals got effected but many aquatic species also lost their lives. It is reported that hundreds and thousands of fish died in NSW in December 2019 wildfire incident.
How to prevent forest fires?
Forest fires must be controlled and minimized for the future of this world and for our next generations. As most wildfires are caused by human negligence, we must get the necessary knowledge to help prevent them. Few tips are
- Make sure to put off the campfire properly.
- Keep all types of sparks away from dry vegetation.
- Carefully dispose of lit cigarettes.
- Report any unattended fires.
- Use fireworks in a clear area, away from vegetation.
- Cautiously burn debris
With our responsible behavior, we can avoid many fires. Additionally, those living in high-risk areas must pay more attention to the weather forecast. So, they can take preventive measures beforehand. A wise man once said:
“The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”
—John Paul II
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Ayesha khan is a former student of environmental studies and psychology. She is a passionate writer who loves writing about different topics and creating environmental awareness is her top priority.