To think, 2019 can truly be called «fiery». We have been witnessing and hearing about horrific and catastrophic events for nine months.
On march 28 in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, there was a large fire in a residential high-rise building. At least 70 people were injured, rescuers counted 25 deaths. The catastrophe of the cultural scale – the fire in Notre-Dame de Paris started on April 15th and lasted the whole day. Fortunately, no one was died, 3 people were injured. The cathedral suffered colossal damages, and its restoration, according to experts, will take about 15-20 years. On July 18th, there was a fire in the Japanese animation studio Kyoto Animation. 35 people died, more than 60 were injured, part of the undertaken work in the studio was lost.
These and the other fires killed so many people who happened to find themselves on the scene of an accident, caused destruction to properties counted in the millions of dollars, but the consequences are reparable, what gives us hope that we will be able to correct our mistakes and try to permit such a situation not to happen again. However, this year there were also those fires that wouldn’t let you forget about yourself. Annual seasonal fires in the Amazon rainforests, Siberia are out of control. Fires in Azerbaijani forests are also act up. The area of damaged areas is too large, a very large amount of carbon dioxide is emitted in the atmosphere, thousands of animals were left homeless and were forced to migrate to unnatural habitats for themselves, which means their imminent death, certain areas of ground have suffered greatly under the influence of high temperatures and are unsuitable for farming anymore. And this is just a visible, obvious list of effects on the biosphere.
So let us begin.
Hell in Siberia
At the moment, the situation in Siberia leaves much to be desired. Those figures varied, but on average about 2.5 to 4.5 million hectares of forest are burning or have already burned. As media declaires, the forces deployed to extinguish the fire, cope with only 6% of the areas covered by fire, which is 140 thousand hectares of forest. According to the Aerial Forest Protection Service, at the time of writing, September 2nd, the number of registered active fires reached 129. According to the RFBR, forests in Siberia make up 80% (931 million hectares) of the total percentage of forests in Russia (1 billion 146 million hectares). These facts allow us to understand why these forests are so valuable not only for Russia or the continent, but also for the whole world.
According to RFBR data, forest fires, especially when coniferous forests are burning, produce an aerosol-gas mixture that poisons the atmosphere, other plants, soil, nearby areas, rivers, seas and farmlands, and also have a negative impact on human health, increasing the risks of lung diseases: asthma, pneumonia, etc. The combustion of one ton of wood produces 2 kg of nitrogen oxide, 12 kg of hydrocarbons, 22 kg of coal dust, 125 kg of carbon dioxide. High temperatures facilitate the migration of heavy metals. Cs, Sr, Hg, Cd, As, Zn, Mn, Pu, Pb actively move in smoke clouds, polluting remote areas, and in burnt areas, inside the soil, the concentration of Ni, Co, Cr increases.
The cause of such massive and destructive fires is a number of factors, and the problem is not as simple as it may seem at first glance. The first thing to say is that forest fires are seasonal in nature, that is, every summer under the influence of high temperatures in the forest there are natural fires, but usually they do not extend to large areas and are easy to control and minimize damage to nature, if there is such a need. The next factor is a human. The resort season of most people in Russia falls on the summer months. Many of them prefer to spend their holidays in nature. Careless handling of fire and recklessness could be as one of the causes of fires. This factor is not the main, but it still makes its sad contribution in continuously increasing number of fires. But perhaps the most powerful argument in the debate about the causes of the increasing number of fires and reaching catastrophically unprecedented levels is global warming. The average rate of increasing in temperature according to the established norm is 1.5-3 degrees centigrade. This gives us the right to say that in the next 20-30 years the situation with record forest fires in Siberia and in the Amazon rainforests may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to what we can expect. Due to global climate change, the number of large forest fires worldwide is increasing every year. About 10 adult trees burn every second.
Spring and autumn periods are still linked with cleaning the territories from fallen leaves and systematically burning them. The leaves emit heavy metals when burning that pollute the atmosphere and pose a threat to the population if they burn in bulk quantity. In total, 43 418 fires with a total area of more than 1 million 369 thousand hectares were registered that year.
According to the National Institute for Space Research(INPE), about 76000 fires were recorded in Brazilian Amazonia, which is 80% more than in the same period in 2019.
In the dry season, wildfires occur frequently in Brazil, but this year their area is 85% larger than last year, as shown by satellite monitoring data. It was a record number of fires from 2013(78.4 thousands of wildfires).
According to the experts, the cause of most fires is massive deforestation for industrial purposes and the local practice «chop and burn». The main point is that farmers and landowners cut down areas of forest, allow the area to dry, and burn it. This is due to a need to vacate new areas for agriculture or to increase the number of pastures for cattle. According to the U.S. Department of agriculture(USDA), Brazil is the world's largest beef exporter.
1.64 million tons of beef were exported from the country in the last year. According to the Association of Brazilian beef exporters(ABIEC), this was the largest volume ever supplied by an exporting country. Beef export revenues rose for 7.9%(6.57 billion $) in 2018 from 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the G7 leaders in Biarritz, tweeted that 20% of the "lungs" of the planet are burning, and the “Group of seven” is ready to allocate $22 million. Brazil refused Macron’s proposals in a short time without any explanations.
Another cause of fires was identified by the President of Brazil, Mr. Jair Bolsonaro. He suggested that NGOs had set fire to the Amazon rainforests as a revenge, because his government reduced its funding. He didn’t show any evidence, and he didn’t give the names to support the theory, saying that «there are no written records of suspicion». Later, his unfounded version was rejected.
According to Brazilian authorities, seven states asked the military forces for help, after the Brazilian Secretary of Defense allocated 44 thousand soldiers to assist in extinguishing fires in the Amazon rainforests.
United States of Fire
In comparison, the U.S. fire situation is getting better and better. There were 25,619 fires from January 1st to July 30th, 2019 what is much better compared to 37,591 fires for the same period in 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 1.3 million hectares were burned during 2019, compared to 1.9 million hectares in 2018
According to the National interagency fire center, 58,083 forest fires were registered in 2018, compared to 71,499 forest fires for the same period in 2017. In 2018, about 3.6 million hectares were burned, compared to 4 million hectares in 2017.
These figures tell us about a positive falling curve on statistical charts. It is also an argument in favor of systematic procedures for the prevention and timely control of forest fires.
According to the wildfire risk analysis conducted by Verisk in 2017 revealed that 4.5 million homes in the U.S. were at extreme or high risk from wildfires, with more than 2 million California alone. Over the past 10 years, the damage caused by forest fires amounted to $ 5.1 billion.
Fires – allies and neighbors of the progenitors
Wildfire was an important process influencing the Earth’s surface and atmosphere for over 350 million years, and human societies have coexisted side by side with fire since the advent of communities.
One of the fateful moments that unite the history of proto-humans and fire is the moment when people tamed the fire. The fire allowed people to enrich protein and carbohydrate foods with the opportunity to cook it, develop their activity at night, and protect themselves from predators. Some of the first evidences was found in East Africa (about 1.5 million years BC).
Humans in fire-prone ecosystems have always lived in harmony with fire, and its use can be seen as the first human-made tool which influenced ecosystem dynamics beyond local scales.
Data analysis on charcoal in sedimentary deposits and isotope ratios in ice cores suggests that global biomass combustion in the past century has been lower than at any time in the past 2,000 years.
The Ministry of Emergency Situations uses several criteria for assessing the level of fire threat: the rate of spread, temperature, etc.
The rate of fire spread is considered low if the indicator is kept in the range of 3-10 meters per min. The average speed is attributed to the fire if it moves at a speed of 100-200 meters per min. Under favorable conditions (terrain, tailwind or headwind), the speed may vary, respectively, the speed will rise or fall. Especially dangerous fires can reach 400-500 meters per min. Under favourable conditions (terrain, tailwind or headwind), the speed may vary (rise or fall). Especially dangerous fires can reach 400-500 meters per min.
The combustion temperature is a factor that helps us to assess the potential of fire and its destructiveness. The content of ore elements in the ground increases at higher temperatures, and the smoke is enriching with heavy elements, which leads to their migration, crumble in clear ground, and then to pollution of flora and fauna.
The temperature of the combustion of brush fires is about 700 °C. Crown fire varies between 900-1200 °C. It is necessary to indicate that human constructions in combustion emit significantly more heat 800-900 °C, combustible gases 1300 °C, solids of 1200 °C.
Finally, I would like to tell you about some very interesting methods to stop the spread of fire.
The most effective method, according to experts, is the laying of a mineralized strip with a tractor, bulldozer or manually. Thus firefighters would be able to completely cut off the burning part of the forest from the still untouched.
The second in effectiveness but less safe method is called «Counter-fire». A certain part of the forest is burned in the form of a middle band (its width can vary) in front of fireline. Thus firefighters create additional obstacles to the fire, diminishing its opportunity to jump over the scorched area and continue its movement.
But the using of traditional methods of fighting fires with the help of aircraft is ineffective because of ascending flow of hot air which creates a “shield” in the fire zone. Part of the reagents and water vaporises in the air, and what is left couldn’t have a significant impact on the fire. That’s why the using of air vehicle is highly specific and linked to the inaccessibility of the terrain and localization of the fire.
Fire. It is frightening and fascinating. It is praised and worshipped. It is a symbol of hope, life and progress. But it is also dangerous. Fire can gift life, but it also could destroy, kill, absorb everything, the whole achievement of mankind. Past events of this year explain us, who is a host here, and who is just a guest. We hardly can beat fires, but we can fight them by minimizing damage.
If only the Russian authorities reacted immediately and would have made all available efforts to prevent further fires by allocating funding and sufficient amount of people and engineering. The already difficult situation was aggravated by the problem of floods in Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, Amur and other regions of Siberia. Helpless people stood literally between Fire and Water.
Fires in the Amazon are the result of human greed and selfishness. Trees in the forests were cut down to build pastures in their place, satisfying the increasing demand for meat and meat products. Business blinded them.
These two huge scars on the surface of the planet will not heal soon. Notre-Dame will take 25 years to recover, the regeneration of the burned areas of the forest, which look like spots on the sun on the satellite images, will take much more time from the Earth, and many generations will be replaced until the forest will return its previous form.
I advise you not to stand aside and to have an active role in our planet’s fate. If a tragedy will happen, we’ll all be guilty.
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- Price, David Energy and Human Evolution