Fire: Man's friend, foe, ...
Beginning when the earliest humans first rubbed two sticks together,
or hit flint against stone, or grasped a burning limb and captured
flickering yellow flames, fire has fascinated mankind. Fire was
deemed so important to some early civilizations that they worshiped
it as a god. The Greek philosophers of long ago considered it
one of the four essential elements, along with water, earth, and
air. By controlling fire, we could see in the darkness, cook food,
keep warm in winter, and clear forests to plant crops and keep
the marauding animals at bay. But fire is also dangerous. It rages
when out of control, it can destroy our homes, our communities,
the crops and forests we depend upon for survival, recreation,
Which came first, the lightning
or the forest?
Lightning. From the time our planet came into existence, lightning
has sparked the landscape. Lightning continues to dance upon
the surface of the Earth. It is the natural source of forest
fires. Today, humans give lightning a lot of help. More than
half (50%+) of all the forest fires in the United States and
Canada are caused, directly or indirectly, by people.
Smokey the Bear is right.
Smokey the Bear, sporting his forest
ranger hat, has warned millions of visitors to national
parks and forests, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!"
In more than half the cases of forest fires, he is right.
More than 50% of fires are man-made. Some are purposely
set for reasons of livelihood — to clear ground for farming,
grazing, or development, to get rid of unwanted underbrush,
even to fertilize the soil.
Other fires are set accidentally by
careless campers who don't know how to put out a campfire
correctly, or by smokers who toss away their burning cigarette
butts, or by litterbugs whose discarded glass bottle may
act as a magnifying glass and ignite the dry tinder on
the forest floor. And some forest fires are the result
of criminal arson.
Lightning causes an average of
20 forest fires a day in the U.S. alone. Fortunately,
most of these fires go out on their own.
A forest fire is an unenclosed and freely spreading combustion
that consumes the natural fuels of a forest. Combustion is another
word for fire, and natural fuels can be fallen litter, ground-hugging
grasses, shrubs, trunks, branches, and leaves — in short, any
vegetable matter in the forest that can burn. When a fire burns
out of control, it is called a wildfire.
As far as fire is concerned, are all
forests created equal?
Definitely not. Tropical rain forests — cloaked in fog and
continually drenched by mists and downpours — have virtually
no fire worries. Even in the deciduous, broad-leaved forests
of the temperate zone, the rainfall, general dampness, and relatively
high humidity play a big role in limiting fires. But this is
not true of coniferous forests (those with cone-bearing trees),
where highly flammable, resin-coated needles blanket the forest
floor. Nor is it true of the forests of evergreen, broadleaf
trees found in hot, dry zones. These two types of forests frequently
develop natural conditions ideally suited to the spread of fire.
- Explain the difference between a forest fire and a wildfire by providing a definition for each.
- People are a cause of about ____________ % of forest fires.
- What types of forests have the highest risk for fire? Why?