Causes, Effects and Solutions to Wild Fires; a Case Study of California

What are the Main Causes of Wild Fires in California?

California’s weather pattern tends to present a hot, dry to and windy weather conditions after spring and experienced all through to autumn. These have been attributed to major wild fires in California experienced specifically around those specific seasons..

What is a Wild Fire?

A wild fires are huge uncontrolled flames that tend to engulf huge tracks of land at a time and are perpetrated by strong winds in warm weather and dry vegetation.

Depending on the vegetation being burnt, a wild fire is categorized as either a forest fire, grass fire, peat fire or a bush fire.

The destruction trail left behind by a wild fire is in most cases massive as it may burn for days on end and destroy acres of land and all organic matter on it.

According to Call Fire, the worst wild fire in California is estimated to have burnt 273, 246 acres in Oct 2003 in San Diego destroying 28, 209 structures and causing 15 fatalities.

Causes of Wild Fires in California.

  • Climatic Changes

Accounting for about 10% of the causes of wild fires  in California, extremely weather conditions are the major cause of wild fires in the world at large. Additionally, extreme conditions such as strong wild winds aid the spread of wild fires and make it difficult to control them.

A wild fires travel fast on a vast path of dry vegetation and can easily change direction when aided by strong winds. This therefore also renders it extremely difficult to contain the spread of wild fires. The most dangerous thing about a wild fire is the speed at which it spreads; at 23 kilometers per hour, the fire creates a path of destruction fast.

Most wild fires in California are forest fires. In a year that experiences a major drought, forest vegetation tends to dry up more than usual. The effect of continues heat by the sun on these dry vegetation results in fire from a small spark in the forest. When the heat emitted by the sun rays continuously focused on dry vegetation rises to approximately 300 degrees Celsius, it produces hydrocarbons whose mixture with oxygen is combustible and resultant in fire. A small spark in the forest emitting any form of friction can ignite the fire.  In other cases, lightening striking on the dry vegetation causes a sparks and starts a fire. However, this kind of fire is not known to spread fast since the occurrence of lighting is preceded by rain thus the wet vegetation tends to slow down the spread of the fire.

  • Human Activity

It is estimated that about 90% of wild fires in California are caused by human activity resulting from carelessness and negligence. Human interaction with nature is a delicate relationship which when not cared for can result into a trail of destruction.

Human activities such as camp fires put the environment at risk as such fires have the potential to spread when left unattended. In some cases a simple act such a wrong disposal of a cigarette butt or combustible debris may in effect be disastrous and start a fire whose effect may be hard to recover from.

In preparing land for farming, burning of bushes is considered the most effective form of land clearing. However, this practice may result in the fire spreading beyond undesired boarders.

In other cases, a wild fire results as an effect of arson whereby people intentionally set the forest on fire for their own reasons.

  • Volcanic Activity.

Molten lava emitted by an active volcanic mountain can spreads up to 100 miles at anything between 7000 and 13000.  Given that at only 3000 of heat caused by the sun can cause a forest cover to go up in flames, the heat caused by molten lava is a worse cause of a forest fire.

In California however, among the top twenty most destructive fires ever experienced, none has so far been established to have been caused by volcanic activity.

Effects of Wild Fires in California

  • Loss of Human Life and property.

Tunnel, the fire that affected Alameda County in Oct 2009, is to date California’s worst recorded fire in terms of fatalities. It claimed 25 people and destroyed 2900 structures according to Call Fire.

Given the nature of Forest fires’ quick spread, they tend to engulf large areas fast making them hard to contain. The result therefore is fire consuming commercial and residential properties causing death and destruction. This not only affected the economic stability of the affected people but also has a negative effect to education as some schools are forced to close as the community members relocate and recover back to normalcy.

  • Impact of Human Well-being.

It is advisable that in the event of a forest fire, people stay indoors as the smoke being emitted outside can cause breathing difficulties especially to those with already preexisting respiratory disorders.

The smoke also affects the fire fighters and in some cases, the fire catches residential homes especially at night and fatalities occur as people choke in smoke in their sleep.

  • Soil, Forest Degradation and Loss of Biodiversity

The degradation  effect of a forest fire is not only experienced in the loss of vegetation cover which is in very many occasions a major loss with some fires covering up to thousands of acres while some extend to tens of acres. The loss of vegetation cover ultimately reduces the quality of a forest due to the loss of bio diversity. Eco systems are also affected and the worst effect is loss of soil fertility due to the death of healthy bacteria in the soil. Additionally, forest fires kill the flora and fauna both on the ground and within the soil, thereby affecting the biodiversity of the particular forest.

  • Air Pollution

The emission of huge clouds of smoke from a forest fire interferes with the quality of the air around the affected area. That notwithstanding forests purify the air that we breathe. Hence the loss of vegetation results in more green gases being emitted into the atmosphere resulting in an increase in global warming.

Table showing the top 20 fires experienced in California.

Fire NameCountyAcresStructures DestroyedFatalities
1.Oct 1991TunnelAlameda1600290025
2. Oct 2003CedarSan Diego273, 246282015
3. Sep 2015ValleySonoma, Lake and Napa76,06719554
4. Oct 2007WitchSan Diego197,99016502
5. Oct 2003OldSan Bernardino91, 28110036
6. Oct 1999JonesShasta26,2009541
7. Sep 2015ButteAmador &Calaveras70, 8687212
8. June 1990PaintSanta Barbara4,9006411
9. August 1992FountainShasta63, 9606360
10. Nov. 2008SayreLos Angeles11,2626040
11. Sep 1923City of BerkeleyAlameda1305840
12. Oct 2007HarrisSan Diego90, 4405488
13. Nov 1961Bel AirLos Angeles6,0904840
14. Oct 1993LagunaOrange14, 4374410
15. June 2016ErskineKern46, 6843862
16. Sep 1970LagunaSan Diego175,4253820
17. June 2008HumboldtButte23,3443510
18. Nov 1980PanoramaSam Bernardino23,6003253
19. Nov 1993TopangaLos Angeles18,0003230
20. Aug 2016Blue cutSan Bernardino37,0203210

Source: Call Fire 2007

Solutions and Conclusion.

Extreme weather conditions mostly attributed to global warming are resultant in drought and very high heat. These two conditions are major contributing factors to the onset of forest fires in California. However, the human interaction with nature is a sensitive relationship whose result can impact the environment either positively or negatively. It is therefore paramount that human care for the environment and look out for activities that may result in accidental and unintended fires.

Such activities include but not limited to proper management of camp fires, appropriate disposal of combustible debris and cigarette butts. It is also important to raise awareness to California citizens on the need to maintain the forest cover. This will ultimately reduce cases of arson whose effects are as bad as any other forest fires caused by other occurring causes.

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