Climate Change & Wildfires: How they both go hand-in-hand?

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Climate Change & Wildfires: How they both go hand-in-hand?

Traditionally, we had four seasons in a calendar but climate change has made a remarkable change by adding extra seasons for natural calamities(period with high risk) like wildfires and hurricanes. As the global temperature is rising natural disasters are more likely to happen. Climate change plays an important role in emerging wildfires due to warmer climatic conditions and drying of vegetation.

Wildfire can be defined as an unrestrained fire over a wildland, forest, Greenland. Mostly wildfire could be naturally ignited (lightning strike), but sometimes could be started by humans either accidentally or deliberately setting fire to the wildland.

Top causes of Wildfires

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Source: NIDM

According to statistica reports, the California fires in 2018 and Siberian fires in 2019 have made news headlines and did tremendous damage to the forests and environment.they have burnt 2.0 million and 6.7 million acres of green forests respectively in those subsequent years. But above all, Australia bushfires in 2019/2020 pinned them down in every aspect as 46 million acres of land burnt. Thousands of houses and buildings were damaged and 34 people died in this disaster.

How Climate Change affects increasing wildfires?

Climate change is marked as the key factor for every environmental issue and wildfires are also one of them, the earth is suffering from. However, it varies from region to region as the risk of wildfires depends upon several factors like temperature, soil moisture, and the presence of trees, grasslands, and other burning fuel. Directly or indirectly climate differentiation and climate change affect these factors causing these forest fuels to be drier and catalyze the risk of wildfires.

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Source: NIDM

Summing up the ways below how climate change affecting the wildfires:

Drying out of vegetation

Due to climate change, an increase in the earth’s temperature causes the drier condition for the vegetation, longer drought period resulting in drying out of vegetation which becomes forest fuel(organic matter that can burn easily). The warmer climatic condition and long drought period initiate the spread of Mountain pine beetle and other insects that weaken or kill the trees and make them forest fuels.

Heatwaves in summer

An increase in the temperature of the earth’s surface due to climate change and global warming causes the heatwaves in summers. Carbonbrief reported all the highest temperature heatwaves across the globe in 2018 and the worst part is that the situation is not under control yet. According to the government official website, this year 2020 has marked the second-highest temperature recorded on the globe.

Longer fire seasons

Due to scorching heatwaves, drying up of vegetation develops the condition of drought. It will increase the risk or the likelihood of wildfire. Warming up of temperatures increases the fire season.

Worldwide impacts of Wildfires

Excessive emission of greenhouse gases

An increasing number of wildfires release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air in the form of smoke which pollutes the air quality. Carbon emission from wildfires is comparatively more than transportation and other households. It is also composed of particulate emission along with elements like mercury and other harmful substances that can cause air pollution and health problems.

Human health

The direct infusion of deadly carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the environment led to an increase in dangerous health problems like cardiovascular disease, breathing problems, itching, and rashes on the body around the globe. It doesn’t matter where the wildfire is happening and where you are currently living. These harmful particles can travel miles to miles and become more deadly after mixing up with others.

The decrease in the Green cover of earth

Here if we talk about amazon rainforests also known as the green cover that contains 10% biomass of all the earth and it contains a large amount of carbon. After deforestation or wildfires which are mainly caused by humans in the amazon rainforest, it emits all the carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases which causes ultimately global warming.

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Source: NIDM

Destruction of Wildlife habitat

For wildlife, wildfire is like losing a home because everything got burnt what they need for their living like food, shelter, water. Animals move towards more dense areas in the food search. Some elderly and very young animals died as they cannot escape from the fire. Wildfires make wildlife to migrate from one habitat closer to human proximity as they always avoided.

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Source: NIDM

How Wildfires Impact India?

Thinking in a way like wildfires is happening too far away, doesn’t mean we can escape from the global impact of wildfires. Along with climate change impacts, smog and particulate emission of harmful elements like mercury will pollute the environment and they have the potential to travel globally. Due to forest fires, the environment becomes more polluted with the harmful substances causing deadly diseases.

India could be in the same situation as Australia and California. Thousands of miles away from California and Australia, India is also facing wildfires disastrous damage. As per ISRO reports, in February 2018, a wildfire at Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka burnt around 10,920 acres of forest. It was uncontrollable for five days due to a lack of firefighting management. According to the India State of Forest Report, over 30,000 incidents of forest fires were reported in India in 2019. Around 21 percent of the total forest cover is extremely fire-prone.

Losses in India from extensive Wildfires

  • Loss of valuable timber resources
  • Degradation of water catchments areas resulting in loss of water
  • Loss of wildlife habitat and depletion of wildlife
  • Loss of natural vegetation and reduction of forest cover
  • Soil erosion and floods
  • Deteriorating Biological Environment
  • Adverse impact on Health system
  • The threat to Life and Property
  • Global Warming

What should India do?

Currently, India is facing the same issues regarding forest wildfires as other countries but not to that much extent. It is like being on the tipping point to fall, so it is high time to gear up all the services and management to fight against the disastrous calamities before time. Exact information about deforestation and wildfires are very limited, yet whatever data available predicts a very sad situation.

Some of the ways Government can initiate are:

  • Make an amendment to National Forest Policy
  • The need for proper fire protection and fighting schemes
  • To conduct training courses for the foresters and planners
  • A preventive program of zoning, danger rating, early warning, and real-time monitoring has to be designed and installed
  • Increasing resources allocated to firefighting and fire prevention
  • Statistical data management of forest fire damage should be accurate
  • Need to replace outdated methods of firefighting
  • Forest fuels should be removed such as dead trees from the forest before wildfire season
  • The higher sensitivity of government towards climate change and its impacts
  • Developing recovery plans before a fire hits
  • Implementing plans quickly after a fire to reduce erosion, and minimize habitat damage
  • A national awareness campaign on fire damage, prevention, detection and communication, and suppression should be launched involving schools, Joint Forest Management (JFM) committees, non-Government, and other voluntary organizations during the onset of fire season every year
  • Increased vigilance by the appointment of an adequate number of fire watchers during the month of hot weather and wildfires
  • The communication network has to be supported with improved mobility to enable quick transport of human and materials from one area to another

Being human we can not fight against natural calamities or actions of god but as communities, homeowners, and forest managers by our small efforts, we can reduce the likelihood and impacts of wildfires by:

  • Discouraging developments (especially residential) near fire-prone forests
  • Sign petitions and write to the government to stop using the forest land for commercial uses
  • We must limit ourselves to go camping in the wildfire season as negligence in campfires and fairs when not put out properly leads to devastating forest fires
  • Think before throwing cigarette butts in the dry forest as careless throwing of cigarettes, bidi stubs, when accompanied by winds, may result in fires capable of destroying the entire jungle
  • Last but not the least, Plant trees as much as you can

References

  1. Disasterphilanthropy.org, May 2020-, Impact, June 2019, and March 2020. disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/2019-australian-wildfires
  2. “Media Reaction: The 2018 Summer Heatwaves and Climate Change.” Carbon Brief, 27 Aug. 2019, www.carbonbrief.org/media-reaction-2018-summer-heatwaves-and-climate-change
  3. “Heat Waves: NOAA Climate.gov.” Heat Waves | NOAA Climate.gov, 1 Sept. 2020, www.climate.gov/climate-and-energy-topics/heat-waves-1
  4. Report on Forest Fire Disaster Management by National Institute of Disaster Management, Government of India, https://nidm.gov.in/pdf/pubs/forest%20fire.pdf
  5. “Siberian Heatwave of 2020 Almost Impossible without Climate Change.” World Weather Attribution Header, www.worldweatherattribution.org/

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