Magazine article World Watch

Fires Burn around the World

Magazine article World Watch

Fires Burn around the World

Article excerpt

A large number of intense fires, many of them close to urban areas, blazed across thc United States this year. Fires burned in New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, California, and other states throughout the summer, exacerbated by the combined hazards of cities sprawling into nearby wildlands and years of fire suppression in areas where fire is a necessary part of the ecosystem. The Cerro Grande fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico, a prescribed burn that got out of control, encroached on the Los Alamos National Laboratories, threatening buildings containing radioactive material. Ultimately, the fire destroyed more than 400 homes and buildings scattered across more than 19,000 burned hectares.

This year the global epidemic of fires is on pace to significantly exceed the average of 500 million hectares that burn each year. Fire has been a continual threat in places as diverse as India, Africa, Brazil, Russia, China, Greece, Australia, and Indonesia. Many parts of the world have experienced unusually dry weather, largely due to the lingering effects of the La Nina weather pattern.

In some of the burned areas, fire plays an essential ecological role by regulating plant succession, determining species distribution, influencing nutrient cycles, and reducing insect and disease infestations. Suppression of fires in these ecosystems can lead to a buildup of combustible materials that makes eventual fires worse, as they can burn hotter and faster. In the United States, historical studies have shown that prior to European settlement, an average of 4 to 11 percent of the land area of the contiguous 48 states burned every year. …

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