What is Wildfire?
Wildfires are unplanned burns in any natural environment, like a forest or a grassland. Wildfire can spread quickly, burning
through most anything in their path, causing injury and death to people and animals.
Wildfire is no new phenomenon for the West coast, and certainly not for California. Recent fires in the state over the past five years, however, have been among the largest and most destructive in recorded history. This is due in part to past forest management practices dating back to the California Gold Rush of 1849, as well as dated urban planning strategies that built homes in areas where wildfire had historically burned.
Climate change plays a key role, exacerbating the conditions — drought, heat, gusty winds — that increase the changes of wildfire in certain areas.
Air Quality and Wildfire Smoke
Forestry and Plants
How Do Wildfires Start?
Warmer, drier climates combined with fire-control practices over the last century has produced a situation in which one can expect the frequency and severity of wildfires to increase. Fire management practices have resulted in an unnatural buildup of fuels in forests, increasing fire risk at the boundaries between urban and wildland areas.
Climate Change and Wildfires
Changes in climate, especially in areas that have experienced early snowmelt, have led to hotter, drier conditions that can increase fire activity in those areas. Wildfire risk depends on many factors, including temperature, soil moisture and the abundance of trees, plants and other potential fuels. These factors can be directly and indirectly tied to climate change. Warmer, drier conditions contribute to the spread of bark beetles and other insects that can weaken or kill trees, increasing potential fuels in forests.
Benefits of Wildfire
Fire can be an important component of maintaining diverse, healthy ecosystems. When fires burn in accordance with their ecosystem, leaf litter and other dead ground vegetation are burned. Fires revitalize native animal habitats and indigenous communities and encourage the maintenance of new native plant growth. Research also suggests cultural burning practices, conducted by many Native American communities, could also be a tool to help alleviate wildfires, too.
Threats Posed By Wildfire
Wildfires have far-reaching impacts on our world, such as increasing greenhouse gas emissions, devastating ecosystems and decimating animal populations and their habitats. Wildfire can destroy homes and other structures and create dire and even fatal health impacts for humans.