The benefits of wildfires

Forest fires look awful. As you drive through an area ravaged by forest fire, you can’t help but feel badly – all those charred black trees look horrible and the entire area looks devastated.

That’s exactly why the national forest service spent so many years actively looking for fires and getting them put out as quickly as possible. The forests were nice and green and they looked so pretty.

But now, we know preventing all the fires was a mistake.

For thousands and thousands of years, forest fires were a natural part of the cycle. Every thirty or forty years a fire came through and burned out all the underbrush and thinned the trees. The fires tended to be fairly small and relatively cool, so they burned a small area and then went out.

But in recent years we’ve experienced huge, raging fires that devastated massive tracts of land. The fires burned fast and furious, destroying everything in their paths.

Now scientists suspect the reason we’re having such huge fires lately is because we suppressed the natural fires for so long. The small fires used to burn out the underbrush but now there is nothing stopping it from growing. When a fire starts now, it has lots and lots of underbrush to burn.

There are also more trees now. The small fires used to kill a few trees, but a lot of trees managed to survive, which meant the forests weren’t quite as thick as they are today.

All that means that forest tires today can burn bigger and bigger areas. The underbrush acts as a ladder for the fires to be able to reach up to the tops of the trees. A forest fire today destroys everything in its path because it burns so much hotter than they used to.

The National Forest Service has now adopted a new plan for dealing with fires. Whereas they used to rush to the site of the fire and put it out, they frequently let them burn now. They also used to go in immediately after a fire and plant new trees. Now, they allow Mother Nature to take care of it and slowly bring new plants in. They are hoping that, by allowing the natural cycle to return to the forests, the massive fires we’ve seen will be a thing of the past.


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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