Everything You Need to Know about Wildfires
2021 Wildfire Season
As of October 19, 2021 the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC) reported a total of 47,602 wildfires across the country that had burned almost 6.5 million acres. While the summer months have the most active wildfires, there is no real defined "wildfire season" and there are still 5,612 personnel deployed fighting active fires.
With the year-to-date average being 49,090 fires burning 6.89 million acres, you might be wondering what exactly happens after a wildfire. To answer this question, we first have to distinguish between the types of wildfires.
Types of Wildfires
As explained by NC State University, there are three types of wildfires: Ground fires, surface fires and crown fires.
- Ground Fires: These type of fires occur when just the plant roots and other organic matter below the soil surface ignites and slowly burns.
- Surface Fires: Often times ground fires can turn into surface fires, which burn dead or dry vegetation that’s lying or growing just above the ground.
- Crown Fires: These fires burn through the tree canopy. Because the influence of wind is greater in the canopy and the canopy is composed of interconnected vegetation, they often burn hot and spread quickly.
Wildfires can occur naturally, either being ignited by heat from the sun or a lightning strike. These types of fires, as well as controlled burns, are often low intensity and remain under-control. These benefit the environment in many ways as it serves as a reset button, with many natural environments actually depending on fires to thrive.
As explained by The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, fire removes low-growing underbrush, cleans the forest floor of debris, opens it up to sunlight, and nourishes the soil, all of which allows established trees to grow stronger and healthier. In addition, fire kills diseases and insects that prey on trees. Overall, after low intensity fires, habitats are nourished and valuable resources such as native vegetation and water is replenished for wildlife.
Unfortunately, as stated by Joseph Roise, a professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State’s College of Natural Resources, the vast majority of wildfires are caused by humans. The estimated 85% percent of wildfires caused by humans are incredibly destructive.
After the Fire
Considering the fact that destruction caused by wildfires in the U.S. has significantly increased in the last two decades, special efforts are now often required to prevent future problems. The Forest Service has a post-fire emergency stabilization program known as the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program. BAER teams are staffed by specially trained professionals: hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, biologists, vegetation specialists, archeologists, and others who start preforming their assessment before the wildfire has been fully contained.
The first step is emergency stabilization. During this process, efforts are made to prevent further damage to life, property or natural resources. The stabilization work begins immediately and may continue for up to a year. The second step is long-term rehabilitation and restoration. These efforts focus on repairing infrastructure and natural resource damages caused by the fire and can take many years. Actions include: planting trees, reestablishing native species, repairing damage to facilities such as buildings, campgrounds, and fences, restoring habitats and treating invasive plants.
To learn more about wildfires, what you can do to help prevent them and steps you need to take to prepare for future wildfires, check out The Forest Service's resources.