A wildfire is defined as being an uncontrolled fire that occurs in the wilderness. They can be massive in size and have the ability to spread across vast distances, jumping rivers, roads and fire breaks in the process. Usually, wildfires occur in hot and dry climates during the hottest months of spring and summer. On average, there are a reported 60,000 to 80,000 wildfires each year, and 3 million to 10 millions acres of green land are destroyed in their wake. Wildfires can have different effects on the environment depending on their size and frequency.
Environmental Consequences of Forest Fires
Natural Vs. Man-made Causes of Wildfires
Naturally occurring wildfires are far less frequent than man-made ones. The most frequent causes of natural wildfires are volcanoes, lightning, spontaneous combustion, and sparks caused by rockslides. Natural coal seam fires have also been attributed to causing wildfires when combustible plant material is located nearby.
Most commonly, wildfires are started by human negligence. Intentional arson, equipment sparks, discarded cigarettes, unattended campfires, controlled agricultural burns and power lines have all caused a number of wildfires in the past. With an increase in deforestation across the globe, highly flammable grasslands have taken their place. Statistically speaking, six times as many wildfires are started by humans than any natural causes.
Whether caused by human negligence or naturally occurring, wildfires can be dangerous to homes and businesses in the surrounding areas. In order to protect one’s self and home, evacuation plans should be set and home insurance should be purchased. Classes and instruction can be found to help protect businesses and employees such as safety degrees online or by contacting a local fire department.
Environmental Consequences of Forest Fires – Positive Consequences of Wildfires
Wildfires can serve to clean up any dead or decaying matter strewn across forest, which, in turn, enables an increase in new plant growth. Wildfires are also useful in maintaining the balance within an ecosystem by removing any harmful insects and diseased plants. An added benefit of plant removal is an increase in sunlight, which can assist in the regeneration of plant seeds.
Scientists have also realized that wildfires can increase the amount of plant and animal diversity within a particular ecosystem. In the midst of a wildfire, exceptional amount of nutrients are released into the soil, which can result in a flood of new plant growth. Some plants even require wildfires to germinate their seeds and stimulate growth, such as the peculiar species of Panderosa pine trees.
Regular wildfires also help by killing invasive species, allowing for indigenous species to continue thriving. If wildfires do not occur regularly, this can lead to forested regions being overrun with underbrush and trees. Subsequently, when these forests are finally subject to a wildfire, they may burn too hot, thereby stifling new growth rather than causing it.
Environmental Consequences of Forest Fires – Negative Consequences of Wildfires
When the frequency of wildfires in a particular region is too much, it may have a devastating impact on the ecosystem. For example, frequent wildfires will disrupt the natural cycles of these forests by eradicating native plant species and encouraging growth of fire-resistant plants and other invasive plant species. Because some of these invasive species are highly flammable, they cause a perpetual cycle where they increase the risk of future wildfires that further destroy native plant species.
Wildfires can exacerbate levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thereby strengthening the greenhouse effect that is already plaguing our earth. Further, wildfires generate ash and destroy available plant nutrients, thereby greatly effecting the biodiversity of forests. With an increase in water runoff, wildfires can engender flash flood conditions and enable soil erosion.
In conclusion, wildfires serve many purposes in nature, but whether they are positive or negative is contingent on their frequency and cause. If human beings are striving towards a sustainable future, then a few precautionary measures must be made. In regards to wildfires, humans need to become aware and educated of the potential consequences of their negligence, If they can learn to live in symbiosis with the earth, then we can depend on the earth to provide us a sustainable future.