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What Are Wildfires?

By Kai Singh

Edited by Eman Hamed

As the endangerment of our biosphere (which encompasses every living thing on our planet) becomes a more prevalent issue, humans are scrambling to find solutions. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pinpoint one issue to focus on when several others are also spiraling out of control around us. There are thousands of problems in environmental health, but when the Australian fires ran rampant in early 2020, wildfires caught the attention of the media in an international frenzy. However, we still don’t talk enough about wildfires and all the issues that follow them.

First off, what are wildfires? Wildfires are described as uncontrollable fires in places with flammable vegetation. These fires can be further classified by the type of flammable vegetation being affected, such as a peat fire versus a bush fire. About 90% of wildfires are caused by humans or human activity, yet they affect humans and our biosphere in disastrous ways.

In 2017 alone, a dangerous mixture of desert weather and a drought in California proved to be catastrophic as 9,133 wildfires ran rampant, where globally the numbers were in the high 71,000. In 2018, the numbers dropped significantly with 58,083 fires globally, according to the NIFC.

Wildfires also have negative side effects regarding health, as they can cause respiratory problems and cancers. The smoke produced is unfiltered, therefore not only affecting people with heart and respiratory problems but also affecting the general population. Not to mention that smoke can cause suffocation, leading to potential fatalities or long term health problems. When there is a fire, the smoke is tainted with toxic chemicals from whatever has been burned, like large amounts of plastic from appliances or electrical wires. These toxic chemicals also end up in our water supply and soil. Unfortunately, this can harm our plants and animals too. For example, fish have been found to have high mercury content in them, which can be toxic when consumed in large quantities. When an animal eats fish, they are consuming that mercury, which leads to poisoning and health problems.

And not only can wildfires be injurious to our health, but a single fire can cause millions of property damages. Just in early 2020, the Australia fires caused about 3-4.5 billion Australian dollars and damaged one in every 10,000 homes. To put that into perspective, there are about 9 million privately owned dwellings in Australia, which means about 900 homes were damaged or destroyed in some way. That leaves at least 900 people without a home, which is not an ideal situation for the government, the economy, or the people.

One of the worst parts of wildfires are the CO2 emissions. Our atmosphere is a mix of gases, and CO2 is a necessary gas that needs to be in that mix. But the words “too much of one thing isn’t good’’ run true as the smoke from fires pump large amounts of this CO2 into the atmosphere at once, ruining the air quality for miles.

Wildfires are easily caused but can have many terrible consequences. But there is good news. You can prevent these fires from spreading by just being more attentive to your surroundings. Never leave flammable , smoking, or combustible materials on the ground, properly and fully extinguish fires, and never burn anything that isn’t supposed to be burned, as foreign materials may react negatively or explosively with the fire. Always remember - be lit but don’t set fires that cause millions in property damage!

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