While forest fires are raging in Northern California, and the wind is pouring oil on the fire, covering 21 850 hectares of land, it’s time to find out how such fires occur and what their long-term consequences for our health and the environment are.
How the forest fire begins
Despite the fact that the source of fires in the Sonoma County has not been established, according to the authorities, 95% of natural fires in the state of California began because of people.
Meteorologists are not yet ready to give predictions about the further spread of the fire, but three conditions are known to contribute to the continuation of the fire: fuel, oxygen and heat source.
Four out of five forest fires begin because of people, but dry weather and strong wind can create conditions in which one spark will turn into a flame that will burn for several weeks or months, destroying tens of thousands of hectares.
Another possible cause of forest fires is lightning. Scientists have found that every degree of global warming increases the lightning activity by 12%. Since 1975, the number of fires caused by lightning has increased by 2-5%.
Historically, fires have been considered useful for certain natural landscapes, clearing shoots in forests and helping to eject seeds in some plant species such as Banx’s pine. Unfortunately, suppression of natural low-intensity forest fires actually contributed to the fact that high-intensity forest fires began to gain momentum.
In the first half of the 20th century, the US Forest Service suffered from what historian Stephen Pine calls “pyrophobia”, or the desire to suppress all forest fires, including useful ones. Since the science of forestry first took root in Europe, where a completely different forest ecosystem, the first American foresters perceived the fire solely as a problem caused by people.
Fire brigade teams are making efforts to suppress forest fires around the areas most prone to fire, such as populated areas, municipal watersheds and redwoods. In other cases, if the situation is under control, they can allow the fire to burn out, as was supposed by nature.
Forest fires have the ability to heat the entire planet, the NASA study showed. In ecosystems such as boreal forests, where more carbon is stored than in any other terrestrial ecosystem of the planet, the effects of climate change unfold twice as fast.
In May 2016, fires destroyed the northern Canada’s boreal forests and burned for months, burning millions of hectares of forest and its rich organic soil, which serves as a reservoir for carbon storage. Each degree to which our planet is heated requires a 15 percent increase in precipitation in the forests to compensate for the increased dryness.
As in the case of Northern California, it is assumed that the boreal forest fire in Canada was caused by people.
The impact of forest fires on people
It is estimated that smoke from forest fires kills 339,000 people a year, mainly in Asia and Africa, south of the Sahara. It has also been reported about a tenfold increase in asthma attacks, seeking medical help and hospitalization cases when smoke enveloped residential areas.
Common layers of stagnant air in the west of the USA, called inversion air, can be created by fires and keep smoke below. Airborne microparticles can penetrate into the deepest corners of the respiratory system and cause blood clotting. Smoke also contains carbon monoxide, which leads to prolonged damage to the heart.
After a major peat fire in eastern North Carolina in 2008, the number of patients with heart failure increased by 37%, and with breathing problems – by 66%.
The impact of forest fires on wildlife
Wildlife has a very ambiguous relationship with fire. Some animals have evolved to get along with it, and some even thrive after fires. But not all wild inhabitants consider fire to be their friend – there are, for example, those who can not outrun the rapidly advancing flame.
Young or small animals are particularly at risk. Slow creatures, such as koalas, whose natural instinct is to crawl and crawl along a tree, may be trapped.
However, for many environments fire is not the end, but change, rebirth or new opportunities. The annual forest has a different set of vegetation and fauna than the forest, which is 40 years old, and, according to the biology of the animal kingdom, many species require a “reset”, which provides a forest fire.