BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Public Health Impacts of Wildfires



Wildfires are large, uncontrolled and destructive fires that spread quickly over woodland, brush or an area of combustible vegetation, mostly in rural regions. Depending on the kind of vegetation involved, wildfires may also be referred to as forest fires, grassland fires, bush fires, brush fires, urban fires or wildland fires. Wildfires could happen in most parts of the world except places like the Antarctica. Fire is always seen as a good servant and a terrible master; in the case of wildfires, it evolves from being not just a terrible servant but an enraged god causing loads of destruction to life, properties, environment and natural resources.

Wildfires can occur naturally and spontaneously due to factors like lightning and heat- extremely dry heat waves can produce enough heat to spark a wildfire. Dry weather and drought convert green vegetation into dry, flammable fuel; strong winds spread fire quickly over the land and warm temperatures encourage combustion. Additionally, humans also contribute to this disaster either accidentally or deliberately through campfires, careless cigarettes disposal, burning etc. According to the national interagency fire center, human beings cause about sixty one thousand eight hundred and fifty two (61,852) fires yearly.

Wildfires can burn hundreds to millions of acres of land at rapid speeds consuming everything on its path from trees to animals and humans. The largest single fire ever recorded was that of the 2003 Siberian Taiga fires- 27 million Acres of land engulfed in flames and about 47 people died, emissions from the fire equaled the emission cuts promised by the European Union under the Kyoto protocol. The scars caused by this fire are still seen in present day environmental studies on ozone depletion.

Some countries like Canada and Australia have accepted wildfires as an integral component in shaping their forests. Their ecological system has developed symbiosis with the fire which in turn affects the air quality and landscape. Wildfires and industrial activities result in the release of greenhouse gases which increase the level of heat through the depletion of the ozone layer- the heat in turn increases the rate to which the wildfires can occur. This causal sequence explains the increased frequency of fires around the amazon basin as well as the recent California fire outbreaks.

The war on climate change is far from ending if the problems of wildfires are not properly addressed. Wildfires pose immediate and serious public health threats to individuals living around the region and also to everyone on planet earth- there are already increased reports of respiratory diseases among Brazilian children.Wildfire prevention starts from different agencies that cover restrictions but ultimately depends on the behavior of the general public. In order to stop and reduce the rate or frequency of wildfires, regulating bodies need to be vigilant and enact the necessary laws and policies important in tackling this issue. Data of previous fire incidents should be continuously reviewed and compared with the weather forecast to recognize dangerous patterns so as to know how to manage them effectively. People living in fire susceptible areas should be well educated and constantly informed through various means of communication about any slight change in their environment. Programs like firewise, community wildfire protection plan and fire adapted communities are plans that work to protect people, properties and natural resources by emphasizing forest fire readiness and creating fire resistant community designs. These and more regulations will help in preventing and containing wildfires as well as minimizing spreads and damage to the environment.

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