Landscape fires play an important role in many ecosystems across the globe, with (sub) tropical savannas of intermediate productivity being most frequently burned.
Within those (sub) tropical ecosystems, humans are responsible for most of the ignitions and fires have been actively managed for thousands of years, partly aided by the vegetation traits of these regions which make them inherently.
Most fires are anthropogenic in origin and are directly linked to livelihood activities. Some threats to forest protection identified are fires, poaching, trespass, illegal logging and uncontrolled grazing.
Sources and Importance of Wildfire
Wildfire has both natural and artificial origin. Wildfires occur in forest reserves and other bushes and plantation areas.
The existence of favorable fire danger conditions like low humidity, high temperature, dry wind and sufficient dry matter together with human activities are found to be a major factor responsible for fire occurrence.
Some of the causes of forest fire are: natural lightening and friction due to objects robbing together and artificial campfire, debris burning, lumbering, railroad, smokers and miscellaneous.
It is therefore evidence that major causes of wildfire are of artificial sources resulting from human activities towards economic emancipation.
Uses of Fire in Natural Resources
Humans have used fire as a vital tool for natural resource management for thousands of years.
Traditionally, fire has been used as a management tool to control vegetation structure and composition, for hunting and to recycle nutrients locked in live and dead biomass.
These uses have continued up to today particularly in savanna ecosystems of southern Africa and northern parts of Australia.
Improper Use of Fire
Improper use of fires often lead to veld fires, which are blazes that get out of control, destroying extensive tracts of forests and grasslands and may result in the loss of biodiversity and human life.
Periods of wildfire
Wildfire occurs more frequently during the dry season between the months of December and March, when the air temperature is high and relative humidity and fuel loads moisture content are low.
Vegetation is set ablaze annually between November and January (Early burning) or from February to the beginning of rains (late burning). Early burning is done to provide early bush of palpable tender grass for livestock needing in areas of wildlife conservation.
Despite the value of early burning, such fires are uncontrolled and therefore penetrate ecosystems leading to loss of biodiversity.
Late burning is done to hunt for game animals by hunters and farmers and are set indiscriminately, burning all fuels along its course and coming to rest after much destruction when there is no more fuel within an ecosystem.
Economic Impacts of Wildfire
Wildfires can have both positive and negative effects on local economies. Positive effects come from economic activity generated in the community during fire suppression and post-fire rebuilding.
These may include forestry support work, such as building fire lines and performing other defenses, or providing firefighting teams with food, ice, and amenities such as temporary shelters and washing machines.
Ecological Role of Fire
Forest fires are a natural element of many, but not of all forest ecosystems. In cold or dry climates with limited decomposition of litter and accumulation of humus through soil microorganisms, forest fires ensure that future generations of trees are supplied with nutrients.
In fire-sensitive ecosystems, frequent, large and severe fires were rare until recently. Most plants and animals in these ecosystems lack the ability to benefit from the positive effects of a fire or to recover quickly after a burn.
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Thirty-six percent (36 %) of all ecosystems worldwide are classified as fire-sensitive. Their vegetation and structure usually prevent the outbreak and the spread of fires. In the long term, human- induced fires in a fire-sensitive ecosystem can affect its species composition or reduce its area.
Forest Fires and Climate Change
By causing the release of greenhouse gases (GHG), forest fires contribute significantly to climate change. Warmer climate leads to forests becoming dryer and degraded, which increases their vulnerability to fire.
Appropriate fire -fighting measures depend on the type of fire. Creating firebreaks helps in the case of a ground fire. In this case several metre wide strips are cleared of fuel by controlled burning so that the fire cannot spread.
In conclusion, forest fire has both useful, beneficial purposes as well harmful detrimental effect on man, its environment, its natural resources as well as the economy. In the months after a fire, wildlife populations can suffer substantial losses due to habitat alteration and destruction.
Since their habitat has been destroyed, wildlife becomes displaced and must spend more time searching for food, water and shelter.
Displaced wildlife may travel to areas not affected by the fire, which puts stress on the displaced wildlife, as well as the wildlife that was already there, due to increased competition for available food, water and shelter.
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