By: Isabel Wesoloski
Uncovering Fire: Exploring the Causes, Impacts, and Future Threats of Wildfires. As wildfires continue to create catastrophes and devastate societies around the world, these forces of nature have only added to our planet’s constant climate struggle. Throughout time, these natural disasters have not only grown in scale and intensity, but they have increased to become a major threat to our world. But to even attempt tackling this untamed issue, we must educate and address it first by understanding its causes, the impacts it leaves behind, and its future threats.
The frequency of wildfires and their causes are due to a combination of natural and human factors. With natural causes like lighting and/or lava accounting for 15% of wildfires in the US, more than 80% of wildfires are caused by human factors. Some are unattended campfires, equipment malfunctions, and discarded trash like cigarettes. These statistics force us as humans to acknowledge our big influence on wildfires and highlights the importance of minimizing this influence.
The other contributing cause of wildfires is climate change. Due to rising temperatures, dry land from droughts, and frequent change in precipitation patterns, climate change increases the risk and frequency of wildfires throughout the world.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report emphasizing the growing severity of wildfires. As climate change has contributed to the growth and intensity of wildfires, they have caused them to burn throughout bigger areas.
The direct impacts of wildfires can be exemplified by Canada’s recent wave of wildfires this June. With over 400 fires that burned throughout Canada, they faced immediate impacts including hazardous air quality, extensive environmental destruction, and social disruption. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), a Canadian metric system used to assess air quality, recorded a level 9 in Ottawa and a level 7 in Toronto, highlighting the severity of these fires. These devastating conditions caused Canadian residents to remain indoors, resulting in a dramatic disruption of their daily lives.
However, the devastation of these wildfires extends beyond mere social disruption. This year alone Canada’s forests and ecosystems have suffered immensely with over 10 million acres of forest destroyed by wildfires. This loss of natural habitats and most importantly trees further emphasize the long-term impacts of wildfires. With the destruction of forests and the displacement of thousands, the impacts of wildfires serve as a reminder of the urgent need to protect and restore our Earth.
Looking into the future, escalating threats of wildfires are beginning to showcase an urgency to address this issue. Global trends reveal a rise in both the number and intensity of wildfires. In the US, the annual number of wildfires has more than doubled since the 1980s. While in Australia, they have faced immense devastation of wildfires destroying almost 50 million acres of land, more than 3 thousand homes and hundreds of lives lost. The future threats of wildfires have already begun to arise as we see risk to human life, destruction to environments and societies, and immense health impacts due to smoke. Urgent action is essential to mitigate these dangers.