Fire was one of the first anthropogenic tool used by man and has been in existence for about 400 million years. Ever since, it has been an important factor contributing to the Earth’s climate and changes in the biomes. The question on whether fire has ecological benefits as a natural factor remains unsettled thus shaping the current global perception of epidemic wildfires of suppression.
Definitely, wildland fire comes with fundamental risks on human lives, infrastructure and loss of biodiversity. Across the globe there are increasing fire occurrences, severity and resulting losses. Vicious wildfires such as the Car Fire in the USA, Eastern Australia and parts of Africa have continued to deteriorate extensive landscapes especially during dry seasons.
Humans account for about 80% of these fires, with lighting, power lines and use of equipment reported as other causes. In the aftermath, there are direct fatalities and indirect impacts such as health problems related to poor air quality.
Unfortunately, humans are accelerating fire outbreaks and intensity through global warming that build up on climate change. In essence, greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide and methane accumulate in the atmosphere absorbing heat that ends up warming the planet.
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Increased temperatures dry out grass and bushes which makes them easier to ignite. A condition of hot weather with above average temperature combined with warm tinder dry forests and howling winds are fuel these unruly fires. It is a match of heat, oxygen and fuel that are the primary fire ingredients.
Projections are that there will be increased fire incidences due to global warming in the near future. This creates the urgent need for sustainable coexistence with fire.
There are several fire management tools that can be put in place to mitigate the incidences of fire and its intensity. Some of these are thinning out forests through selective harvesting, bush removal and pruning to remove trees, branches and undergrowth. These exercises are aimed at reducing the over accumulation of fuels. Additionally, controlled or prescribed fires can be used to intentionally clear heavy vegetation under trees and dispose excess wood debris on the forest floor.
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Good fires are argued from the perspective of preserving ecosystem and stimulating rejuvenation. However, wild fires have enormous detrimental impacts on the air, water quality, human health, ecosystem resilience and global Carbon cycle necessitating proper management.
By Arnold Muthanga