Fire and Its Affect on the Environment

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Fire and the environment 

Image by Kevin Tiqui 

Brave firefighters are continuing to work hard protecting lives and homes from the fires that rage through many parts of Southern California.  And while they are doing an amazing job, the volume and intensity of the fires alone makes us wonder what immediate and long-term impact these fires will have on the environment?

So, let’s take a look:

Loss of CO2 collecting trees –  These fires have burnt through a large volume of trees.  The Station Fire alone has scorched over 120,000 acres around and through the Angeles National Forest.  Since older trees offset far greater amounts of CO2 than newer trees, the loss of those trees will definitely affect the local environment. 

Did you know the average person produces about 26 tonnes of CO2 per year and it takes six 25-yr old pine trees to absorb 1 tonne of CO2 in that same time period? 

Smoke – Anyone who has ever been in or around a fire, knows the air quality can get pretty bad.  The smoke and soot in the air can irritate your eyes and get into your lungs making it harder to breathe.  In some cases this can cause temporary or permanent lung damage.  Smoke and/or soot can also cause damage to buildings and cars, not only requiring them to be cleaned inside and out, but in some cases requiring major repairs.   

Damage – Due to the efforts of firefighters, there have been relatively few  structures lost (compared to the scope of the fire).  However, those structures/homes that are lost will have to be cleared and rebuilt.  In many cases, measures will also have to be taken to protect the structures (and even other structures that weren’t damaged) from potential flooding or mudslides in the coming months. 

Erosion – With fire clearing the hills of any major vegetation, these areas become more susceptible to flooding and further erosion damage.  Did you know that depending on where you live, it could take anywhere between 5 and 100 years for a tree to reach its full size?  If heavy rains come in before plants and trees can grow and take root, then many of the homes below the damaged hillsides will have to deal with the threat of flooding and mudslides.  This also delays the re-growth in these areas.  

Re-growth – The entirety of the Angeles National Forest covers over 650,000 acres, most of which is covered with dense chaparral which then moves up to pine and fir-covering slopes as you reach the higher elevations.  Since apparently a large amount of the burn areas haven’t burned in upwards of 50 years, re-growth in these areas will take time. 

Animals – There have already been numerous reports over the last few years of animals, such as bears, coyotes, mountain lions, etc coming down into populated areas looking for food.  With fires destroying major sections of the forest, where are these animals going to go for shelter, food, warmth? 

During environmental disasters like this you may wonder, what can I do?  In speaking with the Forest Service, there is something each and every one of us can do.  Go to the California Wildfire ReLeaf page at AmericanForests.com and make a donation.  Your donation will help get trees replanted in the Angeles National Forest.  Just a little bit can go a long way, so spread the word…there is something you can do.

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