Wild Fires

Wild fires are also known by several other names including forest fires, vegetation fires, brush fires and grass fires. These uncontrollable fires are different from normal fires in terms of their extensiveness, the speed at which they spread, its ability to change directions unexpectedly, and its ability to cross gaps like roads and rivers.

Factors like lighting, arson, carelessness and even volcanoes can increase the risk of wild fires. In recent years, such fires are increasingly attributed to heat waves, droughts, global warming and even El Nino. However, one element alone usually does not bring about the fire – it is usually a combination of two or more factors (e.g. drought and occurrence of lightning in forested land).

Wildfires are actually a major growing concern in many parts of the world. Not only are these fires a threat to the local ecosystem, but also to life and property as well. Other harmful effects include changes in the air and water quality as well as erosion and increased risks of landslides.

Many scientists now believe that the recent increase in the number of worldwide wildfires has something to do with the increasingly hot and dry weather in some areas, brought about by changing weather patterns. At any given point, there are thousands of small wildfires ongoing around the world. Research is suggesting that as the earth continues to warm, we will see more and larger wild fires at any one time. For example, in the last 20 years, the area scorched by fire in the western United States was six times greater than in the previous two decades.

As the climate warms, evaporation rate increases and the atmosphere comes to hold more moisture. While this might seem like a good thing against wild fires, it actually has the opposite effect. Most of this moisture will fall in the winter rather than summer. However, in winter, the moisture will fall as rain instead of snow because of the warmer weather. This means that as spring and summer arrive, there is less of a snow pack present. This will result in drier soil, which in turn leads to less evaporation and higher temperatures. Further drying of the land, droughts and heat waves may follow, resulting in higher chances of wildfires occurring.

In addition, when the weather is hot, any moisture that is available on land and in plants is more quickly lost through evapotranspiration. If this moisture is not replaced by rain, the below normal moisture content of both the soil and vegetation allows for higher risk of wildfire development.

The areas of the world that are more affected by wildfires are the northern regions. This is because the northern latitudes are warming much faster than the tropics. As a result, they are experiencing less precipitation and the region is becoming more susceptible to fire. With thousands of coniferous trees that shed needles, there is also plenty of fuel available to feed the fire once a spark is created.

While global warming and climate change are contributing to higher rates of wildfires, wildfires are also contributing to global warming climate change. As the vegetation burns, it releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, thereby speeding up global warming which in turn further increases the risk of more wild fires.

Unfortunately, it is not just wildfires we have to worry about. Since industrialization, manmade deforestation fires have also added to the total greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and contributed to global warming.

A vicious cycle is in place and it has to be stopped.

Read about the other consequences of global warming

Return from this page on Wild Fires to page on Facts on Global Warming

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