Wildfires have been common as of late, and the time for which they burn varies from fire to fire. One of the longest wildfires lasted around 5 months in British Columbia, Canada. But what causes some wildfires to last longer than others?
The longevity of a wildfire depends on the fuel it gets, the terrain it originates from, the weather conditions, and the firefighting resources available in the region. These determine how long a wildfire can burn.
For more insight, please continue reading.
How Do Wildfires Originate?
Wildfires can originate from both natural and human causes. Here are some ways through which small fires are formed. Given the right conditions, these small fires then spread and turn into massive wildfires.
Heat – High temperatures can lead to intense dryness in some regions. These can create a drought-like environment which causes the vegetation to be highly flammable.
Friction – When leaves and vegetation are dry, they all require some movement from the wind. As a result, the leaves rub against each other and cause friction, igniting a wildfire.
Lightning – Lightning often looks for the past of least resistance and mostly hits the ground. However, trees are highly vulnerable to lightning strikes. When lightning hits, the trees catch fire, and it spreads from one to the other.
Human Activity – Wildfires often result from human activities that overstep the boundaries of nature. Some examples of such activities are campfires, cigarettes, fireworks, and outdoor burning, which are not properly administered or controlled.
Arson – Some people intentionally set fires; this could be to burn some items or for fun. This is a criminal act and often leads to wildfires.
Volcanic Eruptions – When volcanoes erupt, the hot lava can reach forests and trees. It sets them on fire and sparks a wildfire.
Power Lines – Electrical power lines can create sparks that can start wildfires, especially during hot conditions and high winds.
Factors That Make The Wildfire Long-Lasting
Below we discuss some factors that enhance the longevity of wildfires.
Fuel For The Fire
A fire cannot burn if it does not get its fuel. In wildfires, the fuel is trees and other dry vegetation. Other flammable materials are also involved and may slowly increase the size and expanse of the fire.
If an adequate provision of fuel is there, the wildlife will continue to increase in intensity and will become difficult to contain. The time that the wildlife goes on also increases.
The geography of the area where the wildfire originates is crucial to the increase or decrease in its size. If the terrain consists of steeper slopes, it causes the wind to flow smoothly, further expanding the fire. Moreover, some terrains can be inaccessible.
If the adequate infrastructure does not lead to the terrain, the fire continues to burn and increase until attempts are made from the air, or it dies on its own.
If a wildfire is ongoing and the weather changes, it can determine whether it will continue. If the weather gets hotter and windier, the fire can expand exponentially. However, if there is rain or the weather gets colder, the chances of the survival of the fire decreased.
While wildfires are often a result of human activities, their sustenance could also be because of humans. Some human activities like deforestation, land use changes, and others cause long-term damage to the climate leading to conditions that increase the likelihood of wildfires.
Moreover, humans often refuse to cooperate with officials during wildfires causing greater harm than good. The slow planning and mitigation process of wildfires is also a human activity that allows the wildfire to spread without active action being taken.
The availability and quality of firefighting resources can impact the longevity of a wildfire. The water, equipment, and personnel available to fight the fire can influence how quickly it can be contained. If adequate resources are gathered to tackle wildfires, the spread will stop.
How Long Do Wildfires Last?
The longevity and extent of wildfires depend on several factors we discussed above. The fire’s size, the fuel it gets to expand, and the resources needed to stop the fire determine how long a wildfire will last.
If the fire is smaller, it may be tackled in a few hours. However, greater fires can take days or weeks to put out. In some cases, fires may continue to burn underground, making them difficult to extinguish entirely.
The amount of time a wildfire continues to burn depends on most natural factors like weather, wind, fuel, and terrain. However, most fires go out of control because timely actions need to be taken. Government agencies might be fully functional at times, and the refusal of cooperation by the community may increase the time for which the wildfire burns.
Listen to your officials and follow instructions; your life is valuable to them.
Being prepared for wildfires is crucial, especially if you live in a zone prone to wildfires. Firstly, check in with your officials and look for any instructions they have provided you. If they are asking you to evacuate your home, do so immediately to avoid the risk of damage.
However, if you are not evacuating, keep your home closed. Keep your windows and doors sealed and ensure no air enters the house. Form a defensible zone outside your home that is completely void of vegetation and has materials that resist fire. This will prevent the fire from reaching close to your home.
Lastly, remove any flammable materials you may have left outside or on your roof. This is crucial because embers might sometimes fly to your house. They may not be a cause for concern unless there are materials that ignite upon contact with the embers.
Wildfires are one of the most unpredictable and hard-to-control natural phenomena ever. With the increased likelihood of their occurrence each year, more research is being conducted to understand and manage them.
Most of the blame is often put on climate change, but some responsibility also falls on the government agencies and the community members who indulge in activities that cause wildfires.