Are Wildfires More Dangerous Because Of Man-Made Climate Change?

Man-made climate change has resulted in weather phenomena we’ve never seen before, and scientists believe it will only get worse the longer we pump warming gases into the atmosphere. We know that climate change is a big factor in the increasing number of wildfires, in particular those seen in the Western United States over the last few years. But are fires in general more dangerous because of man-made climate change?

Sometimes.

According to recent research on wildfires, they scorch at least twice the number of square miles today as they did nearly fifty years ago. That’s not all: the season during which these fires ravage our forests lasts about two and a half months longer than it once did. That’s a huge difference in the amount of carbon these fires put into our atmosphere. 

Why is this the case? Well, even though average global temperatures may only rise a degree or two in the coming decades, that’s the global average and it says nothing about regional averages — which may fall or rise much more than that. If the Western United States temperatures increased only a single degree Celsius, scientists believe the average forest fire would burn a much larger area (upwards of 600 percent in some cases). 

Native Americans used to use controlled burns to reduce the risk of fire and, therefore, the overall danger it posed to their tribes both big and small. Modern techniques are much the opposite: instead of using controlled burns to reduce the chance of a larger fire, we try to eliminate the threat completely. Counterintuitively, this results in bigger, longer lasting, and much more dangerous wildfires. And they’re only getting worse because of climate change.

About 80 percent of these fires are the result of careless campers, hikers, or other people. Even though the climate is a big factor, an increasing population can contribute as well. These fires cost many lives, and billions of dollars in damage from lost homes and destabilized infrastructure.

Those fires that burn hotter and for longer than those in the past will become much more dangerous to those who live in the affected regions. It’s important to note, of course, that not all fires will be bigger and more dangerous. It depends on a number of factors such as average temperature and how long drying foliage has gone without rain. Because some regions will experience lower temperatures, the risk and overall danger of fire may actually go down.

How Hammering A Metal Stake Started California’s Biggest Wildfire

According to a recent report in the New York Times, electric companies in California are rejoicing after the news that forensic investigators indicated that a rancher was responsible for starting the Ranch Fire. The rancher, who is allergic to wasps, after discovering an underground wasps’ nest decided to plug the hole with a metal stake. After hitting the metal stake, sparks flew and ignited a dry stalk of grass in his backyard. The rest was ancient history.

The Ranch fire destroyed roughly 150 homes and cost the state of California an estimated tens of millions of dollars to contain. In total, the fire burned 410,203 acres. Despite the rancher being held responsible, he was not found negligent.

Because of the drought and temperatures continuing to climb in the West Coast state, tensions are building that another mundane task such as hammering a metal stake will spark another massive wildfire throughout the region. Even though this winter was a wet one, this means more vegetation available to catch fire, prompting Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency this March to help aid in the clearing of crops.

While this fire might not be the fault of the power companies, the Camp Fire was declared to have started by negligent acts of the North California utility company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). PG&E filed for bankruptcy this past January to protect themselves the myriad of lawsuits that would be coming their way for property damage and emotional distress.

Despite the rancher’s best efforts to put out the fire, he called 911. Emergency response services came and dropped retardant chemicals but it was too little too late. Investigators found tiny metal shards from the stake near the wasp nests which is how they came to their conclusion that is what caused the fire to start.

What Exactly Is Fire?

In the most basic sense, fire is light and heat that is produced from a chemical reaction. The chemical reaction is usually between oxygen and some sort of fuel. Common forms of fuel are wood and gasoline. Wood and gasoline don’t just become fire, in order for the chemical reaction to begin, a third ingredient is needed: heat.

The heat causes the molecules of the fuel to become unstable. Some of the molecules then begin to decompose once they reach a certain temperature. When this happens they release gases creating smoke. Some molecules are moving so quickly from the increase in temperate they “bump” into oxygen molecules cause a flame.

Fire is dangerous because it is a self-perpetuating chemical reaction. The heat of the flame will keep the chemical reaction going as long as there is still oxygen around. Flames can be different colors based on the temperature. The hotter the flame the color is usually blue, cooler flames are orange or yellow. The carbon molecules as they are heated emit light called incandescence.

The gases in the flames of fire are less dense than surrounding air which is why they move upwards towards lower pressure. This is why flames look like they are pointed at the top.

Since fire is made up of three different things, it can be put out in three different ways:

  1. Removing the fuel source or taking it away
  2. Removing the oxygen also known as smothering the fire
  3. Removing the heat by absorbing it with water

Most firefighters use water to remove heat in order to reduce the flames of a fire and prevent the chain chemical reaction from recurring. Fire extinguishers eliminate fires in two ways: by shooting water to remove heat as well as foam to help reduce oxygen.

Fires have been used by human beings for thousands of years. They have used them for heat, for light as well as to cook food. Now that we know what fire is, we can understand fire safety and prevention.

 

How Do Firefighters Determine The Cause Of A Blaze?

Firefighters don’t just work to extinguish fires. They also do their part to determine the starting location and cause of the blaze. Both of these are very important when determining whether or not the fire was accidental or intentional. Not only will the police want to know how the fire started–especially if the worst happened and there were fatalities or the fire spread to other homes–but insurance investigators will have questions as well. Without answers, that insurance payment won’t happen.

So how do firefighters determine the cause of a blaze?

There are a number of techniques that can help firefighters or forensic analysts find the needed information, from satellite images to chemical tests. Simple observation works, too. First, the origin point of the fire must be found. This point can be big or small. Sometimes, it can be less than a square inch in size!

Analysts use science to figure out where fuel from the fire might have originated. If outdoors, could dry pine needles have done the trick? Rare, but possible. Some materials burn more easily than others, and these are the first suspects. Because paper will burn faster than wood, smaller objects and materials are often to blame.

Firefighters often arrive on the scene before a fire can completely demolish a structure or area, in which case they can easily figure out where the hottest flames were burning. This is likely the location at which the fire started because the fire was burning there longest. How much smoke was present when firefighters arrived? What was the color of the fire? To the untrained eye it might look like determining the origin point or source of a fire is difficult, but it’s usually easier than it looks.

Once the origin point is determined, there is often physical evidence left over. If the fire originated at the stove, it won’t take long to figure out what went wrong. Cooking accident? Electrical malfunction? “Char patterns” are used to track the progress of a fire from origin point to end point. That provides investigators with a general direction, which is another trick to figure out where the fire started and what caused it.

Because of the way a fire burns–up–the starting location can be more accurately determined when not at the floor level. A fire with multiple points of origin would immediately be distinguished as arson according to a criminal defense attorney Miami.

The Importance Of Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Detectors

With Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week just gone by, it’s hard to overstate the importance of life-saving detectors. The charity Nolan’s Story and Gravenhurst Home Hardware paired together in order to provide 100 carbon monoxide detectors to the Gravenhurst fire department, which will help the volunteers who donate their time there to better serve the community as a whole. It’s time to spread the all-too-important awareness of fire and carbon monoxide safety.

All right, so everyone knows they should have a smoke detector. But what kind? There are two primary types of smoke detectors: photoelectric and ionized, or both in combination. Ionized detectors will better detect hotter, faster burning fires, while photoelectric detectors will do a better job at letting you know when you have a slower burning, smoldering fire.

Either detector will do the job, but a combination detector will help give you the small bit of extra time you need to escape from a potentially dangerous blaze. Those homes without properly working smoke detectors are more likely to have fatalities in the event of a fire.

Once you know you’re prepared for a fire, it’s time to think about something else you can’t see: carbon monoxide. It’s a poisonous gas that could surprise you because it’s odorless. You can’t see it. Most people don’t know that the appliances in your home can give off this gas. So long as they’re working, carbon monoxide detectors will signal you that there’s a problem before you experience any symptoms from inhalation. It’s a worthwhile investment.

The best carbon monoxide alarms include specialized electrochemical-sensing technology to increase the speed of detection.

Sometimes it’s not enough to place these devices in your home. You have to do a simple extra step to make sure they function properly: perform a monthly check to ensure that the batteries are still working. If not, changing them is crucial and could save your life.

Depending on where you live, you might also reap the added rewards of early detection. Many homeowner policies will offer insurance discounts to those who can prove they have the right detectors installed. It’s mutually beneficial, so do the right thing and make sure you have both detectors installed today.

How Often Do Cigarettes Cause Massive Fires?

Everyone knows that cigarettes are dangerous, both first-hand and second-hand. They cause cancer and a variety of other serious health concerns that can become more debilitating as we age, but how often are they a firestarter? Believe it or not, cigarettes are one of the most likely causes of any fire, causing nearly 25 percent of U.S. deaths. There are about 1,000 fatalities annually after out-of-control fires are caused by an unwary cigarette smoker.

The victims don’t just include the smoker. They include friends and family, bystanders, and children.

In addition to deaths, there are around 3,000 injuries each year in the U.S. according to a report made by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The dollar amount in damage reaches about a half billion. This figure includes personal and public property. The total annual cost when health care and loss of productivity are factored into the number soars to about $4 billion.

Even though fire safety precautions and cigarette fire awareness programs continue to be implemented all over the country, the numbers are growing. Other sources of fatal residential fires include heaters, electrical malfunctions, cooking accidents, and arson.

The reports indicate that more fires caused by cigarettes result in death than any other source. The estimated reasoning for this skewed figure is simple: if you fall asleep with a lit cigarette, you’re asleep. You can put out the fire before it spreads.

Part of the reason cigarettes are such a dangerous source of fire-related accidents is because of the way they’re manufactured. In order to increase the longevity of each cigarette, they continue to burn even when no one is around to inhale them. That’s great for the smoker who won’t have to relight after a sudden gust of wind or a moment or two in the ashtray. It’s terrible for fire statistics.

Cigarettes often remain lit in smoldering fashion for over a half hour before a fire begins. They most often start fires in couches or in piles of material that are required for the smoldering process to catalyze. Without this type of burning a fire cannot develop. Aside from preventing smokers from obtaining cigarettes, manufacturers could do more to reduce the chances of this type of fire by slashing the diameter of the product. In addition, the packing could be less densely filled and the paper could be altered to reduce the amount of oxygen flow.

What Causes Wildfires In California?

Wildfires in California cause billions of dollars in property damage in addition to numerous fatalities. More and more people are looking to find out what starts these fires, especially since the number and severity of these disasters have increased over the last few years, according to New Jersey Employment Attorneys.

What Is A Wildfire?

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group describes a wildfire as a wild-land blaze that is both unplanned and unwanted. According to this definition, wildfires can take the form of escaped natural or prescribed wild-land blazes; illegal wildland fires caused by human beings; and any other sort of wild fire that is required to be put out.

Causes Of California Wildfires

Wildfires in the state of California can be started by any of the following causes.

Arson

Human beings have been said to cause some of California’s largest wildfires, albeit indirectly at times. However, some fires have been as a result of the actions of arsonists. One of the latest and largest blazes in the state, the Holy Fire, which started in Holy Jim Canyon in Orange County, is suspected to have been started by an arsonist.

Modern Equipment

Locomotive and automobile engines have been mentioned among the main causes of wildfires in many parts of the US, including California. Between the late 1800s to the early 1900s, coal powered locomotive engines were identified as one of the main causes of wildfires through the spread of fire igniting sparks. This led to the invention of the spark arrestor. This invention countered the release of fire causing sparks from these historic engines, as well as modern internal combustion engines and wood fuelled stoves among others.

However, all eventualities were not planned for accordingly, as one of the most recent and largest wildfires in California, the Carr fire is suspected to have resulted from the sparks released from the friction between a vehicle’s bare rim and the road surface after one of its tires burst.

Power Supply Lines

California wildfires may also be started by power supply lines located above ground. Strong winds, blowing from the Pacific Ocean for instance, may cause weak power lines to break or make contact leading to the release of fire igniting sparks. Fires may also start as a result of branches falling over the lines.

Over the years a variety of wildfires have been started by power lines in one way or the other; with Pacific Gas and Electric, the main energy supplier in the state, bearing the blame on some occasions.

Other Causes

Other causes of wildfires include burning debris, campfires, fireworks, cigarettes and cigarette butts among others. It’s however worth noting that these causes account for less than five percent of all wildfires.

What Is Fuelling California Wildfires?

Climate change and dead trees are also said to be among the main reasons why wildfires in the state of California are burning across larger areas and for longer.

Extended periods of dry weather with some period of precipitation in between combine to create the ingredients for huge wildfires. The precipitation encourages the rapid growth of bush and grass cover; afterwards hot weather dries out the vegetation, providing fuel for massive wildfires. Dead trees resulting from widespread insect infestations in California’s forests also work to fuel the blaze.

As more housing units are constructed in high-risk areas when it comes to wildfires, it’s also highly likely that we will see more fires caused by humans, whether directly or indirectly.

8 Teens Killed In Chicago Fire Reminds Of Fire Safety

There are some lessons that we all really should remember and put into practice before someone gets hurt.

One of those lessons is about protecting property and family from fires. It should never take a group of kids perishing in a fire to remind us to pay attention to our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in our homes.

Amidst all the shootings every week, Chicagoans seem to get complacent about fires in lieu of firearms.

It was a simple safety issue such as smoke detectors that led to the deaths of eight teenagers in a house fire in Chicago recently, with two other teens in critical condition in the hospital after suffering burns and smoke inhalation. The fire started in the rear of the house and there was a clear exit out of the house, but smoke detectors in the home were not functioning, so there was no alarm sound to wake up the teens so they could get out of the house.

This incident brought to mind reminders for everyone about basic fire safety in the home, which means taking care of smoke detectors:

  • Check them every month to make sure they are functioning, and the proper alarm sound goes off.
  • Change the batteries every six months, even if they never get used.
  • Make sure there is a smoke detector in every bedroom and on every level of the house, including basements and attic spaces that are livable.
  • In addition, make sure there is a fire door that leads from the garage or carport into the house and ensures it closes properly and can be locked.

The two surviving teens are fighting for their lives, and they will likely have a lot of work to do to get healthy again, assuming they get out of the woods and recover. Not only are there battles with internal injuries, but it’s likely that the teens will need some help with their skin, as fire and smoke  have likely scarred and discolored their skin and the work will require skin grafts as well as other post-op therapies such as what might be offered as dermatology clinics similar to Unique Dermatology and Wellness, which usually have the latest therapies to restore the skin as close to normal as possible in the wake of such a horrific  event.

It is a long road to recovery for those teens who survived. For the community, this tragedy is a stark reminder of how a simple preventive act like checking smoke detectors for functionality can be a huge difference between everyone getting out alive, and having eight promising young lives snuffed out before they even have a chance to start impacting our world.

Even one life lost is too many if it could have been avoided.

WHY WILDFIRES ARE SO HARD TO CONTAIN

Wildfires are sort of a double-edged sword. Of course, they are most notorious as a destructive force, burning properties and vibrant trees and brush anywhere and everywhere in their paths.

On the other side, wildfires can be very cleansing to the area in the aftermath, as the ashes left behind serve as food and fertilizer for the rebirth of the area, as has been seen in several western states following massive fires.

No matter which side you fall on, wildfires that are active do put a lot of land, property, structures and human lives at great risk, and they often demand massive firefighter response to contain and eventually extinguish them so as to eliminate the risk to property and human life.

But do you notice that even as the fire grows and as personnel comes onto the scene to fight the blaze, that these wildfires are ultimately difficult to contain even after all of the firefighting assets are in place and doing the work?

Fire, especially when it grows beyond a campfire or fireplace, starts to take on its own personality – humanlike in that it can be unpredictable and create its own environment in which to thrive. And often, firefighters have to think “like the fire” and “be” the fire in order to stay safe and be able to successfully fight it and subdue it.

What makes a wildfire so difficult to contain? We can look at the Mendocino Complex fire in California, which was still burning as the largest wildfire in California’s history. A fire this large will have many factors in its favor to keep burning for a while, even as fire crews have continued to fight the blaze for the better part of a month now.

  • The challenge is that firefighters need less heat and more humidity, but most wildfires occur in seasons when it is dry and hot. Those conditions have prevailed most of the time at Mendocino Complex, though firefighters have gotten breaks with increased humidity at night recently.
  • Many wildfires don’t burn in flat area with little or no brush. They are often in very rugged, mountainous, and sometimes dense forest land. The kind of terrain that is very difficult for humans and vehicles to get to, and forests are obviously ripe areas to add fuel to a fire.
  • Wind can change on a dime, which is why were put it separate from weather. Whether humid or dry, rainy or sunny, the existence or non-existence of wind can dramatically affect a fire. A gust from the south one minute can push a fire into a barrier, while a flip to the east could send the fire right into structures or help it jump over a highway or other roadway.
  • Self-weatherizing. As fires get bigger, not only do they develop their own personality, but they become their own weather system. As they take up a lot of land, it can perpetuate itself into expansion by drying out the air and the ground around it, increasing the temperature of the area, and as creating its own wind I the direction is “wants” to go. This is where firefighters have the most difficulty; getting into the “mind” of a fire to understand its weather “pattern” and try to predict where it might go next.

As you can see and imagine, there are so many variables that are difficult to predict and overcome. These are the reasons that wildfires grow and are so hard to contain – and why they are such a destructive force in the western U.S.

How Smoke From Fires Can Affect Your Health

According to the New York Department of Health, smoke released from any type of fire, whether it’s forest, brush, crop, buildings, waste or wood) is a mixture of particles and chemicals. Substances found in smoke include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particle matter (soot). Other chemicals found in smoke include aldehydes, acid gases, nitrogen and sulfur dioxides, benzene, toluene, and so much more. The particles released depend on what is burning, at what temperature and how much oxygen is available.

The biggest health threat from smoke is the aforementioned particle matter being released. These microscopic particles can enter your body through your lungs, your eyes and your nose. This can lead to a myriad of health problems including but not limited to:

  • runny nose
  • burning eyes
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • chest pains
  • palpitations
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • long-term lung and heart diseases
    • Angina
    • Asthma

If you live in areas that have smokey areas such as California, safety protocols including setting up carbon monoxide monitors and having in-home respirators. In the event that you are in an area that suddenly sparks a fire, leaving the premises in an orderly fashion and finding a safe area away from the smoke is the best course of action.

If you feel that you are suffering from any of the aforementioned symptoms it is imperative to speak with a healthcare professional.