The most common occurrence of forest fires is from June to September. However, some instances of forest fires in November and December have also been reported.
Given the right mode of ignition and the conditions that sustain the fire, like dry vegetation, wind, low humidity, and no precipitation, forest fires can occur during the winter. However, the likelihood and intensity of these fires are usually very low.
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Ignition Of Forest Fires
To understand when forest fires can occur, it is important to know how they start. Below we look at the multiple different ways due to which forest fires are ignited. It is important to know that the source of ignition of 50 percent of forest fires can not be traced because of the wide range of possibilities.
- Lightning – Areas that experience thunderstorms and have ample vegetation can be prone to forest fires. The lightning strikes trees, and they catch fire. Moreover, forest fires sometimes cause rain and lightning, which can further alleviate the fire.
- Campfires – Forests are a great place to go camping, but it is crucial to put out campfires properly. Improperly extinguished campfires can ignite nearby vegetation and start forest fires.
- Cigarettes – Discarded cigarettes that are still burning and are not put out properly are a leading cause of wildfires. These ignite small parts of vegetation, which eventually grow into big fires.
- Arson – Some people intentionally set fires in forests; this is an act of arson and is illegal. These can lead to massive fires and begin at a larger scale than accidental fires.
- Burning debris – Burning debris such as trash or yard waste can also spread to nearby vegetation and start a forest fire.
- Vehicle accidents – Accidents that occur too close to forests or dry vegetation can cause sparks and start a forest fire.
- Agricultural activities – Some agricultural practices include setting fires on crops to fix the soil. These are usually controlled and carefully done but may get out of hand and cause forest fires.
How Are Forest Fires Sustained?
Ignition of a forest fire is not the most significant part of it. The sustenance of a forest fire or the growth of it due to other factors is the most detrimental phase of a forest fire. Without sustaining factors, a well-ignited fire will die out without causing much damage. Below, we discuss what some of these factors are.
- Fuel – As the fire burns, it needs fuel, such as leaves, twigs, and branches, to move forward and grow. The fire can continue to burn and spread as long as fuel is available.
- Heat – Heat is one of the most important factors. This comes from the fire and helps create conditions that help the fire grow. For example, heat makes the vegetation dry out and catch fire quicker.
- Wind – Wind can cause the fire to spread more quickly by fanning the flames and pushing the fire toward new fuel sources. This also allows the flames to reach higher and catch fire in the crown area of the forest.
- Topography – The land’s shape and slope can influence the fire’s speed and direction. In a place with a topography that has steep slopes, the fire would spread downhill but would take longer to spread uphill.
- Weather conditions – Weather conditions such as high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds can also create ideal conditions for a fire to spread and sustain itself.
- Fire behavior – The behavior of the fire can also impact how long it is sustained. For example, a crown fire that spreads through the tops of trees can be more difficult to control and sustain than a ground fire.
How Important Is Weather In The Occurrence Of Forest Fires?
Weather is a critical factor in the occurrence and behavior of forest fires. It plays a role in determining the likelihood of a fire starting and how it will spread. Since we are exploring if forest fires can occur in the winter, it is crucial to discuss the weather and its significance in causing and sustaining a fire.
Below we look at four factors that make up the weather and how they aid fires.
- Temperature – High temperatures increase the likelihood of a fire starting and can also cause fires to spread more quickly. When temperatures are high, vegetation dries out more quickly. However, if the temperature is low in the winter, the chances of a fire starting reduce greatly.
- Humidity – Humidity is a factor that acts as a barrier in the way of the fire spreading. High humidity keeps everything wet, and the vegetation cannot catch fire quickly. Low humidity is observed in winter if it is not raining, while summer months have high humidity.
- Wind – Wind can spread fires more quickly and make them more difficult to control. Strong winds can also cause embers to be carried long distances, starting new fires in other areas. Forest fires usually form wind systems and are not dependent on the area’s temperature.
- Precipitation – Rainfall and other forms of precipitation can help prevent fires from starting by wetting the vegetation and reducing the fuel available for a fire. However, if the precipitation is followed by dry weather, the vegetation can quickly dry out again, increasing the fire risk.
Can Forest Fires Occur In Winter?
Forest fires can occur in winter, but the likelihood and severity of these fires are low compared to the summer months.
As mentioned earlier, low temperatures make it difficult for the fire to sustain itself. However, low temperatures also bring with them dryness and low humidity, which can aid and sometimes be a reason why forest fires start.
While the frequency of forest fires in winter is generally lower than during the summer, there have been significant winter fires. For example, in December 2017, wildfires broke out in Southern California, burning over 280,000 acres and destroying hundreds of homes. This was a massive fire, and the winter weather conditions provided the perfect fuel for this fire to grow.
Forest fires can be extremely destructive irrespective of the time they occur in. It is best to take precautions, remove flammable materials near your home, and clear up vegetation. Moreover, following instructions from the authorities in your area can help a lot as well.