USA wildfires – the future

It’s been sad to watch the California wildfire crisis over the last few days, both from an environmental and human point of view. Lives are lost – human, animal, inverterbrates. Property and massive amounts of habitat are destroyed.

CNN ran an interesting story yesterday, not just on this group of fires, but wildfires generally in the USA – and it looks as though the west of the nation is set for a fiery future.

The article refers to a new age of mega-fires — infernos many times larger in living memory and more often. Chief of fire operations for the federal government, Tim Boatner, who has over 30 years firefighting experience under his belt stated that 100,000 acre fires were once considered huge and uncommon. Nowadays, 200,000 acre fires are “just another day at the office”.

So far this fire season in the USA, there’s been two fires that have consumed over half a million acres each. Mr. Boatner says that of the 47 fire seasons, seven of the ten busiest have been since 1999.

There’s a couple of reasons for the increase in mega-fires according to the story:

a) A buildup of fuel that usually would have been dealt with by smaller fires
b) The fire season in the last 15 years has lengthened by more than two months over the whole Western U.S

It’s also been noted that some plants that usually have a high moisture content and act as a fire dampener are just as dry as the more fire-prone species.

Global warming rears its head again – an increase of just one degree has caused four times more fires. It really drives home the point that while only one or a couple of degrees of temperature increase doesn’t sound like a lot; it can have a massive impact. Nature sets the rules and the balance; if that’s toyed with; all bets are off.

In Australia, we live with the constant threat of what we call bushfires in most states – fire is actually an important part of some of our ecosystems – some seeds needing extreme heat as part of the germination process. The problem is, after the fire needs to come rain – and that’s what we’re lacking. As in the western USA, the other problem we have the intensity of the fires these days – species that could stand low-intensity heat cannot handle the temperatures that some of these fires produce; and neither can their seeds.

You can read more of the CNN special report here

The situation also serves as a good reminder that when we’re out enjoying nature, we do need to be particularly careful about fire – not only causing it, but possibly being caught up in it.