A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that burns in a forest, grassland, or urban area. The vast majority of wildfires is caused by humans, starting from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson. However, the fires are also becoming more severe and ferocious with each passing year amid an intensifying climate crisis. As the wildfire season approaches in many parts of the world, we prepared a list of 7 interesting wildfires facts for kids to know.
Fires can start based on three main factors: dry fuel such as dry leaves and vegetation, dead trees and other organic matter; dry air and an abundance of oxygen supply; and heat and ignition sources including high temperatures. In the presence of strong winds, wildfires can spread further and faster, making it more difficult to suffocate it.
One of the key conditions for a wildfire to start is an ignition source such as lighting strikes. There are two types of lightning: cold and hot. Cold lightning is usually of short duration and thus rarely ignites a fire. Hot lighting on the other hand, though has less voltage, occurs for a longer period of time, therefore increasing the risk of a blaze. Climate change is amplifying the rate and intensity of lightning strikes, triggering more extreme lightning storms.
A report found that careless human activities are behind about 84% of all wildfires in the US and accounted for 44% of total area burned. This includes abandoned cigarettes, campfires and barbecues that were not put out properly, as well as so-called gender reveal parties – particularly popular in the country where expectant parents use pyrotechnic devices to reveal a baby’s gender.
Smoke from large-scale wildfires causes significant air pollution in the affected area and is a threat to public health. In 2019, for example, 19 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the US were located in California, a state that was most affected by severe fires that season. Smoke and poor air quality inhalation can lead to minor issues such as burning eyes and allergies or in a worst case scenario, premature death.
As humanity dumps more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, trapping more heat, surface temperatures are rising to potentially catastrophic levels. Hotter temperatures and climate change are linked to increased heatwaves, which in turn lead to longer droughts and reduced precipitation. With more dry vegetation available to ignite, and higher rates of lighting storms, wildfires are becoming common, and they burn faster and spread wider too.
Dangerous smoke from wildfires are expected, but blazes release significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions too. In 2021, wildfires around the world – most notably in Siberia, the US and Turkey – emitted a combined 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to more than double Germany’s annual CO2 emissions. The Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s most important carbon sinks, has also become a source of carbon due to wildfires and deforestation. As mentioned above, greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming, which fuels the conditions for more wildfires.
A great way to lower the risk of wildfires sparking in the first place is to target reduce and remove ignition sources and dry fuel. While it’s nearly impossible to stop lightning – and it is hard to predict where it’ll strike – adequate land management and landscape fire management planning can significantly diminish their ability to spread, therefore minimise the damage. This include reducing and stopping deforestation, which would reduce available dry vegetation. Lastly, considering that humans account for more than 80% of wildfires, far greater education and public awareness on proper methods of fire extinguishing is required.
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