Summer is just a few months away, but the heat has already begun. Feeling heated (and cooling down) is now a part of the everyday grind, thanks to unyielding sunshine and sizzling barbecues. Welcome to August.
Wildfires have made headlines worldwide in recent years, from California to Australia—but they are a threat to far more places of the world, both directly and indirectly. Natural or regulated burns are age-old phenomena that have kept forests and animals healthy for ages, but human-caused flames may be disastrous for everyone involved. However, because of dangerous air pollution that may spread for miles, these large fires represent a threat to animals, the health and safety of surrounding individuals, and even the health of individuals far away, especially as more humans migrate closer to the wilderness.
Chris Fields, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, adds, “What we’ve ended up with is a huge population. “If you look at the country as a whole, around a third of the houses are in a wildfire-prone area.” And that population expansion isn’t slowing down: according to one research, one million additional people will live in fire zones in California alone by 2050. At the same time, wildfire season, which usually lasts from May to October in different parts of the United States, is extending earlier and later into the year.
So, if you reside in one of the locations that are more likely to be affected by fire in the following months or even years, there are a few things you should be aware of in case things heat up.
Explanation of wildfires
According to Dave Peterson, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Washington, the catastrophic flames that have engulfed the West Coast and Australia in recent years can likely be broken down into three key “ingredients.” A large amount of fuel, a period of dry weather that dries up this material, and anything to ignite the fire is all required for a wildfire to become catastrophic. When a forest fire occurred in the past, there were just enough fallen leaves and tiny saplings to replenish the soil and aid tree regeneration.
“A good fire, which is important for maintaining the forest healthy,” Fields adds, “is a low-intensity fire that burns along the forest floor, consumes tiny branches, leaves, and young trees, and generates woods that are sometimes described. As park-like.”
However, as humans have moved closer to the forests where these natural fires occur, policies have shifted to suppress fire rather than allow it to burn naturally. As a result, more and more fuel accumulates, to the point where even a tiny spark might set off a massive fireball. The third ingredient—a touch of fire—is constantly waiting around the corner, thanks to a changing climate that leads to longer and drier summer seasons and the fact that people are mowing lawns, throwing barbecues, and starting their automobiles right next to these woodlands.
‘”What happens if you suppress fire while simultaneously igniting it? “Big fires happen,” says Stephanie Pincetl, the founding director of UCLA’s California Center for Sustainable Communities.
And suppressing flames doesn’t simply increase the risk for those living in fire zones—even in areas like the Sequoia National Forest, which has been meticulously maintained; Pincetl claims that without natural, low-level fires, the trees will not be able to recover.
The area at danger of forest fires has increased in the last two decades, and fire seasons have prolonged across a fifth of the Earth’s vegetated surface. Last year, areas of the North Pole, rising faster than anyplace else on the planet, saw the worst fire season in 60 years, with one Russian town being the first site above the Arctic circle to reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fires have increased dramatically in the Amazon’s moist jungles in recent years. Looking back, wildfires had a horrible year in 2019, with flames burning across 80 percent more rainforest than the previous year. Last year, communities like Lake Madrone, California, and Scio, Oregon, that generally escaped the West Coast’s summer heat were burnt to the ground.
Prepare for wildfires at home and in the community.
Even if you live in a high-risk area, there are many things you can do as an individual—and even more as a community—to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors from the worst effects of wildfires. You ensured that all new structures adhere to the most current state-mandated fire-safety construction rules, for starters.
“California has an excellent code for new buildings, but we don’t have much of a history of retrofitting older structures with those new codes,” Fields adds. Upgrading to double pane windows and replacing your roof with a fireproof material are two things you can do to prepare your house for fire season.
In terms of vegetation, it’s critical to clear flammable brush and replace it with native plants that are more fire-resistant, such as sage and lavender, near your home. Fields also recommend ensuring that no trees on your property have branches below the roofline, which might allow a fire to grow up from the bush to your home.
In addition to protecting your home, it is critical to support community programs to ensure that your neighbors are also taking steps to protect themselves against fires. After all, if your neighbor’s house catches fire, it poses a significant risk to you as well, according to Peterson. It also protects people’s lungs and lives safe from harm thousands of kilometers away. Working with your neighbors to develop well-thought-out evacuation plans, public health infrastructure, road access, and rescue centers might significantly reduce the devastation caused by a forest fire. It’s also crucial to keep track of any information before and during an emergency by visiting websites like FireWise and looking at national wildfire maps.
In the future, Pincetl believes that state, municipal, and federal governments must make financing accessible to those who want to remodel their homes, as well as compensate property owners, to prevent new growth in high-risk locations. Small fires can thus occur spontaneously without causing difficulties for residents, as we’ve seen in places like Baja, Mexico.
“The Mexicans haven’t been able to finance fire suppression as we have in California, so there are frequent fires and low-intensity fires, and property loss isn’t as bad as it is in California,” Pincetl adds. “If the natural fire regime is allowed to occur, there is an example just next door.”
While fire-safety techniques may not alter dramatically overnight, the more we focus on fire prevention and environmental stewardship, the less likely the summer will turn into a blazing nightmare.