Wildfires: How they start and how they can be prevented
US National forests are the worst affected by wild catastrophic fires, and especially Northern California has been a target of deadly flames since 1933. Official warnings issues are cautioning that this can get even worse in the coming years.
The eruption of wildfires
The three most important factors that facilitate burning are fuel, oxygen, and heat. While trying to put out a blaze, we often see the firefighters talk about the fire triangle. During summers, the conditions for fire are seen to peak. When these three aspects are favorable, even a small spark from a moving vehicle will be enough to trigger a raging wildfire. Sometimes fires can occur naturally being ignited by the sun’s heat or lightning. However, most of the times wildfires are caused by acts of human carelessness and recklessness like discarding burning cigarettes, not safely burning the debris, playing with ignitable objects, arson, and campfires can lead to deadly forest fires. The firefighters say the most probable cause for the recent wildfire in California could be the blowing of the power lines due to strong winds.
How fires spread very quickly
Once a forest fire starts, it can spread very quickly because of winds. Forests located in a sloppy terrain and forests with abounding fuel can see the quick spreading of fires. While talking to Newsbeat, Rob Gazzard, technical advisor to the Forestry Commission says, “Where a slope is going upwards at a 10% gradient that would double the speed of the fire, if it’s 20% it would quadruple the speed of the fire. That’s because it’s pre-heating the fuel above it. So if a fire is going up a mountain, it will go very fast.”
When we say fuel, we talk about everything right from the trees, dry grasses and underbrush. The more the presence of fuel, the more violent will be the fire’s flames. When the fuel is dry, it is challenging to control fires.
The role of weather and wild forest fires
The weather can play a significant role in the spread of wildfires in the forests. During low rainfall, there is a drought condition. Combined with it, high temperatures during summers and high winds can provide the most favorable setting for the spread of wildfires. When they are dry, the trees, sticks, and underbrush in the forests can get heated up by the blazing sun. When they are hot, they can easily get ignited, and that is the reason why wildfires rage especially in the afternoons when the temperature is seen at its highest.
Countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, and Canada are more vulnerable to wildfires since they are located in high-temperature zones. The main task connected to preventing fires is to remove the fuel as the weather is something which we can never control. Rob says, “You go hours or days ahead of the fire and remove anything that can fuel it using bulldozers, tree harvesters, hand tools. You then create a fuel break [basically a big trench] around the whole of the fire. Then you can win and suppress it effectively.” Some of the practices implemented today to prevent wild forest fires include choosing less flammable trees, planting those trees in areas where they are less vulnerable to catch fire and harvesting them in regular intervals.
Reintroducing fire to fire-dependent ecosystems
The proven strategy of reintroducing fire to fire-dependent eco-systems is a reliable and safer way to bring down catastrophic wildfires. In any healthy ecosystem, fire can be a beneficial part in as much as it happens in a controlled way. Devastating wildfires are known to risk the wildlife and fish species spoil the air quality and challenge the safety of the communities around. Studies show that only one percent of the wildfires turn into catastrophic wildfires. However, surprisingly, these fires are responsible for the burning down of more than 90 percent of the total forest areas.
The U.S. National forests are the worst affected by wildfires today in the whole world. For some years, fire suppression practices in these regions have given way for the woods to reach the dangerous fuel load levels. Since the wildfires most often spread to the private forests and burn them too, the private forest landowners across the state are found joining hands with the local, state and federal governments to evolve some programs to fight and prevent fires and also do extensive research to implement the most effective fire management practices.
Effective fire management practices to save forests
Studies tell us that proactive forest management using a variety of fire management tools can ensure the health of the eco-system and significantly improve the quality of the habitat. Best practices implemented by the forest departments for preventing fires include thinning treatments, selective harvesting, removal of brush, and pruning. These steps help in thinning the forests that are too much crowded with trees, undergrowth, and branches. In the regions where there is an over-accumulation of fuels, thinning small trees and clearing bushes through controlled burning can together help in the wildfires that can turn catastrophic.
Managed fires, also technically called as prescribed fires are used to clear the heavy vegetation under the trees in a planned manner. The other methods used along with prescribed fires are preparing seed beds and clearing of the wood debris on the forest floor. These proven fire management tools can help manage fires more effectively and also bring down the smoke emission during the instances of wildfires.