The Wildfire: A Vicious Cycle
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
By Hans Yang, Grade 9
Gregory Slade stood in front of his vehicle, silently observing the secluded nature retreat he owned for years- a roaring inferno only a few hundred feet away devouring the beautiful leaves of the wonderfully verdant forest adjacent to the front side of the establishment. Having ushered his guests and staff member to safety a few days before, he hung back to witness the tragedy. Turning away, he evacuated to Queensland twelve hours later, knowing of the fate of his labor and love.
The Fraser Island Fires tore through the ecologically sensitive nature sanctuary relentlessly in the last month, only another unfolding chapter of the bushfire crisis that made its genesis in the 2019-2020 bushfire season. It was also yet another raging beast unleashed by a beach bonfire, and fueled by extremely dry conditions. Doubtlessly, the populations of exotic creatures suffered immensely- such as the incredibly rare pure-bred dingoes, false water rat, and flying foxes.
So how do we put out these fires? Water.
But how much water?
Thirteen thousand kilometers away, frustrated Oregon residents asked the same question to their local weather forecasters and meteorologists. The estimate they received was flabbergasting- a whopping 556,666,205 gallons of water would be required to cover the 205,000 acres of land that were currently on fire- to cover the land by one tenth of an inch. In contrast, an average of 101 gallons is used every day by the average resident of a city.
Using these values, the amount of water to cover the land by 1/10 of an inch is equal to the daily water usage of 5,511,546 citizens. Furthermore, 1/10th of an inch is not enough to vanquish most fires- and also detrimental to environments, water supplies, and could lead to the repetition of these disastrous events.
The majority of the water used in wildfire fighting stems from local water sources near the fire, such as groundwater, reservoirs, and other bodies of water which provide a balancing of air humidity and plant support in the area. After a fire, the depletion of the crucial water supplies causes a major change or multiple in environments, such as reducing plant life, making habitats inhospitable, and destroying much of the elements, and disrupting the balance. Also, major water supply contamination can occur.
According to a reputable environmental organization, “During active burning, ash and contaminants associated with ash settle on streams, lakes and water reservoirs.” (EPA 2019). Flame retardant utilized by forest fire teams can also lead to more of these events, even going to an extent to find its way into drinking water in the cities nearby. The aftermath of these events are expensive to fix- a geological institution proclaimed, “water providers spent more than $26 million on water-quality treatment, sediment and debris removal, and related issues after two recent wildfires in Colorado” (USGS), money that could be spent on different, more valuable causes.
All in all, the world will continue to have its cycle of natural diminishment and reinvigoration, pockmarked by the dirty deeds of man-made disasters, which will undoubtedly grow more severe as temperatures rise due to global warming, and gradually reduce our water supply to a trickle. To prevent another Fraser Island, another Big Sur, it will take an enormous amount of active awareness and a plethora of blessings.