Wildfires usually occur in natural forested areas. They often result from human acts or natural phenomena and can cause devastating damage. You may expect disruptions in transportation, communications, power and gas services, and water supply. Air pollution and loss of property, livestock, and human lives will also be significant. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, wildfires have gotten increasingly destructive and widespread over the past decade. This is evident as ten of the worst wildfires in California have occurred from 2010-2020. As 38 states are at risk for wildfire occurrence, it is important to learn some facts about wildfires to protect yourself today.
1. 90% of Wildfires are Man-Made
90% of forest fires in the United States are caused by human behavior. Most fires originate from reckless or negligent human acts, such as leaving campfires unattended, burning debris, carelessly disposing of cigarettes, and even intentional arson. For example, one of the worst fires in the Columbia Gorge in Oregon was started by two teenagers who threw lit fireworks into a forested area. It was an entirely preventable fire as even teenagers should foresee the consequences of their rash actions.
2. Wildfire Flames Travel Up To 14 Miles Per Hour
It’s more important now than ever to understand how and why wildfires are so dangerous. Wildfires are neither stationary nor easily enclosed. They move fast. According to National Geographic, they move at up to 14 miles per hour and can surpass the speed of an average human within minutes. If the fire is spreading on an upward-sloping terrain, the flames can gain even greater speed – an added 10 degrees to your slope can double the speed of the wildfire.
3. Fire Tornadoes Exist
One extraordinary weather event witnessed in 2020 is the first fire tornado ever, or “fire devil”. Never heard of this combination before? Fire tornadoes are a whirling concentration of flame and ash produced by extreme heat and turbulent winds. Once the firenado gathers strength and speed, its winds can reach up to over 140 miles per hour and can last for 20 minutes. Some fire tornadoes even form a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which essentially creates an added danger as it increases the heat in the atmosphere. Like every tornado, its path is generally unpredictable.
4. Fire’s Ecological Benefits
Fire is a natural phenomenon that has existed since the beginning of time and nature has evolved with its presence. Surprisingly, fire has an incredible array of ecological benefits. Firstly, fire can eliminate dead or decaying matter, speeding up the process of returning trapped nutrients to the soil. Secondly, fire can kill diseases that inhabit forest floors, insects, and trees. In fact, more trees die each year from harmful insect infestation and disease than from fire. Thirdly, healthy fires can help to thin forest canopies and increase accessibility to sunlight for plants on the forest floor, promoting new generations of plant growth. Additionally, an interesting fact is that some species of trees are fire-dependent. This means that they have to be exposed to fire every 3-25 years for regeneration and reproduction. For example, trees like manzanita and scrub oak have fire-resistant bark and require intense heat for seed germination. Change is important in their life cycle.