Wildfires are large uncontrolled fires that have been classified among natural calamities since in the past most of them occurred naturally. Wildfires interfere with the geological framework of natural resources as well as posing a threat to forests and climatic patterns. Wildfires do shape the ecosystem but are catastrophic hence are major concerns of several nations. The impact of wildfires on the environment and human beings is very severe thus calls for creative and innovative preventive measures as they destroy vast lands within a short time and the post-fire effects are also catastrophic. In the past, their causes have been greatly influenced by climate change but are currently influence by human factors like population increase. Efforts to curb wildfires seem to be backfiring as there has been a disturbing increase in wildfires trends over the past 30 years globally. This paper looks at the trends of wildfires, impact of global wildfires on the geological environment with possible measures that can be taken in order to lower the increasing alarming trends.
Research indicates that over the past decades wildfires have been increasing in frequency and magnitude across the world. For instance, between 2000 and 2004 there were seven areas that were affected by wildfire within the Utah region. In the past, wildfires were known to last for hours however; recently others have been lasting for weeks like the Missionary Ridge fire that burned for more than a month in 2002 near Durango, Colorado as illustrated by Cannon and Degraff (5). The cause of increasing wildfires has been associated with climate change resulting from global warming, and recently human factors such as increased population and urbanization. Research shows that most fires occur during the dry period like in the western states; they do occur after the long dry spell of springs which has been associated with reduced precipitation during the rainy season. The forces behind the increase of wildfires frequencies have been linked to increase in temperatures as well as prolonged dry spells resulting from low precipitation during the rainy period. Low precipitation, high temperatures and droughts increases the vulnerability of forests to worse frequent fires as they aid in the drying of vegetation making to easier for the forests to catch fire and spread faster as explained by Pelegrin and Bucher (3).
Wildfires cause severe environmental damage both in the short and long term. One of their immediate impacts is great loss of vegetation and ground cover, trees and grasses inclusive. Wildfires have been reported on the plains, mountains and forest. The fire burns down vegetation and ground cover reducing most of them to ashes thus leaving the ground bare and ugly thus destroys the natural aesthetic value of the environment as implied by Baltzer (43).
Wildfires contribute greatly to desertification. Invasion of forests by large uncontrolled fire has been a common phenomenon for centuries and their damage on forests coverage in the word is devastating. Research indicates that most natural forests have been reduced or eradicated by wildfires and there is fear of complete eradication of natural forests left if the trend continues and massive desertification. The impact of forests absence on the environment is despicable since it contributes to increase of deserts across the globe since forests are the major water resources and also influences rainfall that leads to droughts, prolonged dry spells and widening of deserts climatic change as explicated by Baltzer (52).
Baltzer (57), further, says that wildfires do release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that in the long run interferes with the ozone layer thus contributing to global warming. Trees and other vegetation are made of carbon thus burning a large number of them would lead to emission of high amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that in turn depletes the ozone layer hence contributing to, drastic alarming global problem, climate change that has seen increased temperatures, prolonged dry spells and droughts.
Creighton and Santelices (4) states that wildfires contribute to alteration of soil properties. Fires interfere with the original compassion of the soil as burning it does affect physical properties. For instance, fires lead to change in soil color in some cases, structure, aggregate stability, texture, infiltration and macro pore space. Chemical and biological soil components are also altered. In addition, fire does interfere with the nutrient cycle as it reduces some nutrients like the nitrous family to nitrogen which is realized to the environment as illustrated by Creighton and Santelices (5).
Moreover, the eradication of vegetation and ground cover leaves the ground bare making the land vulnerable to massive soil erosions. Wildfires, aid in exposing the soil to the effect of wind and precipitation as they eliminate the protective layer of vegetation that cover and hold the soil firmly together thus ensure little or no movement of soil under the influence of wind and water. Direct contact of wind and moving water with the soil makes it easier for the soil to be carried away resulting to thinner soil layers, loss of nutrients and development of undesirable trenches that makes the environment lose its visual appeal as implied by Kyoji and Canuti (3).
Furthermore, Kyoji, and Canuti (6) states that the destruction of vegetation and ground cover by wildfires triggers debris flow (mudslides). Debris flow is the movement of rocks, logs, bushes and other fragments, and is very destructive as they can move to a very large environment depending on the intensity of the storm. Debris flow is influenced by heavy rainfall, steep slope and loose soils that results from wildfires. Wildfires do weaken hillside stability by getting rid of vegetation and ground cover that play a very crucial role in holding the soil firmly together protecting the ground from being hit directly by raindrops as well as absorbing too precipitation. Excess precipitation makes the soil unstable thus prone to movements during storms. Post-fire debris movements have been witnessed in several parts of the world. For instance, the seven wildfires that occurred in northern Utah between 2000 and 2004 resulted to 26 debris flow as stated by Cannon and Degraff (5). On a wider and more dangerous scope, wildfires results to landslides which are land movements along steep slopes that results from severe weakening of soil and underlying rocks by excessive precipitation facilitated by heavy destructive storms like the hurricanes as explained by Kyoji, and Canuti (7).
The drastic increasing trends in wildfires frequencies and magnitudes globally call for immediate establishment of preventive measures. Environmentalists claim that controlling wildfires is difficult but agree that minimizing their risks is possible through employment of appropriate forests management mechanisms since experts argue that the effects of wildfires would not have been severe had the forests been properly and carefully managed. Forests stewards are advised to following appropriate basic forests stewardship practices like thinning and pruning to reduce coverage of dry vegetation in the forests for smaller forests. The governments are urged to allocate more resources to the fight against wildfire and encourage people to join hands in the project as it requires combined efforts. Developing effective firebreak mechanism, both natural and artificial, that aids in minimizing wildfire spread is very vital as explicated by Mendes (26).
In summary, large uncontrolled fires are very catastrophic as they have dreadful impacts on the environment. Wildfires have been occurring for centuries. However, research indicates that their trends have increased, recently, in magnitude and frequency at a distressing rate. The occurrence of wildfires have been tied to drastic climatic changes that resulted to low precipitation and prolonged dry spells and recently, human factors like increased population. Wildfires are serious threats to the environment in the long term as analysis shows a self-sufficient cycle that rotates from climatic change to wildfires and vice versa. This is because wildfires contributes to climatic change through emission of carbon dioxide, destruction resources like water sources and desertification that results to prolonged dry spells and increased temperatures that unfortunately happen to the major influential factors of wildfire outbreaks. Wildfires, wipes off vegetation and ground cover leading to weak soil that results to massive rapid erosion, debris flow and landslides in case of steep slopes, and alters the soil properties of that area. Therefore, it is essential to develop measures to prevent and control these fires to lower that current startling increase in wildfire trends that has been realized worldwide in order to eliminate their future impacts on the environment. One of the prevention measures include establishment appropriate forests management scheme.
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