Are we to blame for the fires?


Robert Badura

A photo of a fireman working in a forest fire
Robert Badura explains how humans have played a role in the increasing number of wildfires occurring in the country. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

Are the wildfires in California caused by carelessness or climate change? For over 40 years the state of California has had issues with wildfires and their devastating effects, causing massive amounts of damage to properties and homes and placing human and animal lives in jeopardy.

In just a few seconds, a spark can become an inferno that leads to the start of a deadly wildfire. The fire spreads quickly, engulfing everything in its path, burning acres of land and destroying properties.

“An average of 5 million acres burn every year in the United States, causing millions of dollars in damage,” according to How Wildfires Work.

The fires can occur naturally, ignited by the heat, the sun or a lightning strike. While natural occurrences are possible, the majority of the time wildfires are caused by the carelessness of humans—from forgetting to smother your campfire, dropping a cigarette butt or even deliberately starting the fire.

After the fire’s initial start, there are several factors that determine how much the fire spread, including fuel, weather and topography. Depending on these factors, the fire can go from a little flame to an enormous blaze scorching thousands of acres of land.

The wildfire spreads easier with the more available fuel that surrounds it. Fuel can be anything from trees, to underbrush, to homes. The amount of flammable material that surrounds a fire is referred to as the fuel load. Out of the three factors, weather is by far the most important and plays a major role in the start, growth and disappearance of wildfires. Depending on the weather during a wildfire, it can either kill its momentum or increase the speed in which it travels and spreads. Fire has a much easier time traveling uphill than going downhill – meaning the steeper the slope, the faster the fire travels. Battling the intense fire should be left up to the trained firefighters who work to put out the wildfires by taking away any fuel the fire can absorb and smothering the fire with fire retardant and water.

In most recent news, Southern California braces for more fire weather as the wildfires have already burned down over 9,000 acres of land.

As one fire official says to NBC, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

There have been many evacuations causing families to leave their homes and belongings behind, left in the ashes of what was there before the flames. It’s hard to tell if this wildfire was caused by mother nature or the carelessness of humans, but California still suffers from these devastating fires throughout the year and will continue to suffer in the years to come. Even though climate change may not be a direct effect of these wildfires, it certainly can create a more deadly or destructive fire with more intense temperatures or heavier winds.

These wildfires are powerful forces of nature that can burn for a very long time as long as there is enough oxygen, fuel and heat supporting the flame. Even though we are in Omaha, Nebraska, and not directly affected by the flames, it is important to support those affected and continue to educate those who don’t understand that humans’ carelessness can cause lasting effects on a community.