Fire Suppression in the Hot Seat

This article mentions how the efforts of Smokey the Bear and fire suppression, which was implemented in the 1900’s, is actually the reason that recent forest fires have been so much more intense (hotter and reach higher).  The prevention of the naturally occurring, low intensity fires, has actually allowed for a higher fuel capacity for future fires.  Several tree species had actually evolved to adapt to fires, by losing their lower branches to not allow fires to climb up their trunks, and development of thicker bark so as to not be as effected by the heat of the fires.

wildfire on a California forest floor

But in stopping the fires that these trees were adapted to, that allowed for a greater build-up of fuel items for future fires.  More fuel means they can burn hotter and reach higher.  When that happens, the trees that were safe before, no longer are.  So when these fires happen, those trees die and fall, and become additional fuel for future fires, and it just becomes a vicious cycle.  Forest fires will happen, there’s no way to prevent them all.  And so to best “reset” the situation, would be to do controlled burns that will consume larger amounts of the fuel, so that other fires can’t use them.  Other benefits of controlled burns can be found here.

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