Forest fires are one of the most destructive natural disasters that can possibly hit dense forest areas. It is hard to contemplate why anyone would ever consider forest fires to be ‘needed’ when so many trees, animals, plants and resources get destroyed during these fires. However, some of the resources, especially burnt trees, can often be harvested after a forest fire and reused on wood pallets.
Fires are important for regeneration and renewal of forests across the globe. These fires clean out flammable litter like leaves, logs and more on the forest floors. By cleaning out all this litter the forest stays healthy since many pests and diseases are destroyed in the process. The cleaning of forest floors also prevents extensive and extreme fires from occurring because fires are much easier to keep under control or extinguish when there is less litter around. The fires also reduce density and open the canopy which allows the sunlight to reach other plants and boosts new and fresh growth.
In some cases, tree loggers can harvest burnt trees after a forest fire so the logs can be salvaged. In many instances, once a log is processed into lumber it’s impossible to tell that the log came from a firery forest. These products pass grade inspections and are used home building in furniture construction. In other cases, the log will portray visible defects in which case an ideal application for these discolored products is wood pallets and crates. The discoloration often found from these logs is usually not a problem for wood pallet recyclers. In fact, for many buyers, it’s often a good deal because the main defect is discoloration you can often get a better overall quality product!
Even when forest fires burn through the forest floor, trees are still valuable, renewable resources. Burnt sites will regenerate and regrow plant life much quicker than normal plant growth. This is because the fire itself provides plant life with valuable nutrients and minerals. The forest also catches up to coniferous forests quickly because young trees and plants have much more room to prosper and grow thanks to reduced density and a boost in sunlight on the forest floor.
The United States National Park Service estimates that in the United States, 90% of all forest fires are caused by humans and the remaining 10% are from natural causes. Humans can cause forest fires from campfires that are poorly extinguished and lit cigarette butts that are thrown into brush. The remaining 10% of forest fires are caused by either lightning or lava from an erupting volcano. Canada’s rate of man-made forest fire prevalence is much lower than the United States. The Government of Canada estimates that each year 45% of forest fires are caused by lightning, which accounts for up 81% of the total land burned per year, and 55% of forest fires are caused by humans. Canada’s Wildfire Information System provides a detailed weather map, highlighting forests and grasslands around the country that are at risk for fires, and providing up to date information regarding active forest fires.
In North America, the public campaign to prevent forest fires started in the 1940’s in the United States with Smokey Bear and is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history. Since that time, Smokey Bear has become a North American symbol of forest fire prevention as he is widely recognized across the United States and Canada. Smokey Bear’s campaign has evolved from a series of posters and advertisements into active social media presences on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Forest fires that take place near heavily populated areas are by far the most dangerous because of the threats they make on human life and the subsequent property damage that can follow. The Fort McMurray fire of May 2016 in Alberta, Canada was caused by humans and is the costliest fire in Canadian history, costing insurers an estimated $3.58 billion Canadian dollars. In the United States, those charged with starting a forest fire can face heavy legal consequences. Keith Emerald was charged with starting the 2013 Yosemite Rim fire from a campfire on steep terrain. Although charges against him were dropped, he faced a 5-year imprisonment and minimum $250,000 fine. With the threat of jail time and heavy fines, Americans face harsh punishments for starting forest fires. One practice used to prevent forest fires is to schedule a controlled burn, where land that is at high risk for fire is intentionally burned in a supervised and regulated setting. When properly executed, this can give forests the benefit of fire without posing risk to nearby communities or taxing public resources.
The problem remains that the majority of North American forest fires are caused by humans and this puts strain on our public’s resources. However, under the right conditions, fires can be good for the ecosystem because they leave behind an exposed canopy and fertile soil to promote new plant life growth. In fact, certain species of trees that have serotinous cones like certain species of California’s great sequoia and Canada’s jack pine need fire in order for their seeds to dry, open, and germinate to promote new life. New plant life and tree growth must be supported in order for North American forests to continue providing lumber for our future.