Environment

Forest fires are causing climate change

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Raging pine tree fire across the hill

Image: Shutterstock/FCG

An often forgotten fact about forest fires are actually a natural part of a healthy ecosystem—they act as a detox getting rid of all the accumulated brush and dead leaves out of the way, enriching the soil with nutrients, and giving way to new life. However, forest fires can become a concern if they happen too often or are set off by another cause, such as human activity. They are harmful to the environment, as they release massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. At the same time, the forest fires are a result of climate change, creating a vicious cycle between the two!

Forest fires can either be natural or human caused. When they are natural, a strike of lightning will ignite it and the dry debris will carry it, destroying everything in its path. The most devastating forest fires burn down the trees and are not just ground fires. However, humans are the cause of the vast majority of fires. Very dry areas can burn down with as little as a cigarette touching the brush. Naturally caused forest fires burn the most area of land because they take longer to be detected.

The Northwest of the United States is known for its drastic wildfires. Since the 80s, the number of annual forest fires has almost doubled, making them more of a priority for preservation committees. California, particularly around the bay area, is the most vulnerable region, averaging on about 5,000 forest fires a year.

Not only are forest fires one of the effects of climate change, but they also contribute to it. Whenever the wood burns at such large amounts, massive amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the air. Such concentrated amounts are dangerous to breathe in and harm any living creature in its vicinity.

The effects of forest fires last long after the smoke has cleared away. The demolition of all the plant life and evacuation of all the fauna that may have lived in the affected area creates a completely different ecosystem and species cannot depend on each other the way they used to. This in turn makes it even harder for the inhabitants to get back to normal and re-establish a forest environment.

With ash completely covering the surface and reduced water absorption, flooding is also more likely to happen. Flooding completely ruins all species’ lives and makes it nearly impossible to ever recover. Humans have to wait years until they can come back to live there and the property loses value with the risk of other forest fires starting.

Forest fires are not to be underestimated and we should be working hard to try to prevent them to reduce their expansive effects. There are no permanent ways of preventing the fires because they happen naturally, but because humans are the major cause, it’s up to us to be extra careful and intentional about reducing them.

Marcus Wade loves to surf the Internet, drink coffee and travel. He loves meeting new people and having interesting conversations about art, politics and society.