Five Surprising Facts About Wildfires
By Erin Cassidy, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
September 27, 2013, 3:51:49 AM EDT
Share this article:
The United States is currently in the midst of wildfire season, with 1,218 wildfires burning more than 340,000 acres of national forests in California alone.
Wildfires can be destructive and catastrophic for natural habitats and the firefighters tasked with containing them. However, they can also have surprising and beneficial aspects in several areas. Here are five surprising facts you may not know about “Nature’s Housekeepers.”
1. Most animals are able to escape the flames.
Contrary to popular belief, the wildfires themselves are not devastating to all animals. Large mammals usually do not die within the fire; their instincts will lead them to depart their habitat before they are threatened.
For example, during the devastating 1998 Yosemite wildfire, only 1 percent of the native elk population was killed in the blaze. “Wildland Fire in Ecosystems: Effect of Fire on Fauna,” a 2000 study by the United States Department of Agriculture and Forest Service, notes that “Despite the perception by the general public that wildland fire is devastating to animals, fires generally kill and injure a relatively small proportion of animal populations.”
The animals who suffer the most population loss are less mobile animals like small rodents and insects.
However, wildfires can still pose dangers to wildlife even after the blaze has been extinguished. Many animals can die from smoke inhalation. Other populations can also face difficulty with the destruction of their natural habitat for food sources and landscape.
2. Wildfires can produce “fire tornadoes.”
These “fire tornadoes” are most often referred to as fire whirls. They are a rare but destructive aspect to wildfires and can be responsible for the rapid spread of fires that were on track to be contained. Meteorologically, they are most related to dust devils or whirlwinds.
NOAA has defined a fire whirl as a “vigorous atmospheric circulation, created when highly unstable, superheated, dry air near the ground breaks through the boundary layer and shoots upward in a swirling motion.”
The scope of these fire events can range from 100 to 1,000 feet and contain rotational velocities of up to 90 mph. When encountered, they cause extreme problems for firefighters because their direction and speed are almost impossible to predict.
3. Climate change may cause more wildfires.
A study published in Ecosphere named “Climate Change and Disruptions to Global Fire Activity” deduced that “warmer and drier weather may increase fire activity in biomass-rich areas [such as forests, grasslands], but have the opposite effect in moisture-stressed biomes [ice caps, deserts].”
While the effects of climate change on wildfires varies based on the environment and location, the authors predicted that higher northern latitudes, including the western United States, would experience a pronounced increase in fires.
This study did not factor in man-made wildfires but forecast the confluence of temperature, biomass and annual precipitation to determine their findings.
4. A certain type of beetle thrives during forest fires.
The beetle of the subgenus Melanophils uses its specialized infrared radiation sensors to detect burning forests. Once they have found their desired inferno, they mate and lay eggs in the scorched trees. The beetles find wildfire-ravaged landscapes desirable because the dead trees no longer have defense mechanisms like sap to protect insects from burrowing.
The U.S. Department of Defense has studied the beetles’ infrared sensing capabilities in the hopes it could help defense technology, such as heat-seeking missiles.
5. Most wildfires are man-made.
While fires may be caused by lightning strikes and other naturally occurring events, it is estimated that over 80 percent of wildfires are direct results of human error. Unattended campfires and discarded cigarettes are a few of the common man-made causes and they can destroy thousands of acres and endanger millions of lives.
Always practice fire safety and remember, as Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - November 21, 2018, 11:33:03 AM EST
While frigid weather forecast for Thanksgiving Day and Friday, temperatures may not rise fast enough for the next storm to bring all rain to the northeastern United States this weekend.
Weather News - November 21, 2018, 11:21:39 AM EST
A slow-moving storm system will bring another round of heavy rain and thunderstorms to much of the Middle East from Friday into Sunday.
With no surviving documentation on the weather conditions surrounding the First Thanksgiving, how can we determine what that may have been like?
Many arthritis sufferers believe that cold, damp conditions aggravate their joints and doctors say they may be right.
Weather News - November 21, 2018, 8:01:52 AM EST
Tropical Storm Man-yi is anticipated to bring a period of rain and gusty winds to Guam and strengthen into a powerful typhoon over the western Pacific Ocean later this week.
Weather News - November 21, 2018, 7:55:27 AM EST
While Thanksgiving is popularly known as the day Americans consume an incredible amount of calories, a growing fad in recent years also has Americans burning calories on the annually beloved turkey day.
Weather News - November 21, 2018, 8:30:58 AM EST
Residents of the Philippines will have to remain vigilant for flash flooding and mudslides as a tropical depression tracks across the country into Wednesday night.
Weather News - November 21, 2018, 11:47:04 AM EST
After cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, millions of people across America will turn their attention to Black Friday shopping.