Fire has always fascinated us, and for good reason.

If we hadn’t figured out how to control fire, civilization would never have advanced. Not to mention, it’s nice to hang around a campfire with friends, making s’mores and telling scary stories!

As we’ve been taught, wildfires can serve important purposes: clearing out dead trees and tangled underbrush, which opens up areas for more sunlight, and depositing nutrient-rich ash, all to promote new plant growth.

In Recent Years, Wildfires Have Gotten Far Worse

If you live in the western U.S. or Alaska, you already know this is on track to be the worst wildfire season on record.

  • In 2014, more than 63,000 wildfires burned 3.6 million acres and cost over $1.5 billion to fight.
  • The budget projected for 2015’s fire-fighting is more than $2 billion.
  • Alaska recorded 399 wildfires in June, more than double the number from 10 years ago.
  • Before 1995, megafires (100,000+ acres) were rare, at fewer than one per year; now we average nearly ten megafires a year!

Wildfires have always been a threat, of course, caused when dry and windy conditions combine with a lightning strike, an arsonist, a careless camper, or even a discarded cigarette. In fact, four out of five fires are caused by humans.

Why Are Wildfires Increasing in Number and Intensity?

Almost all climate scientists point to man-made climate change as a cause, and the evidence is striking. The ten hottest years on record have all been recorded since 1998. This year, 2015, may be hotter than 2014, which was already the hottest on record.

Much of the Western United States has experienced drought and high temperature conditions for the last four years. And even in areas that receive some rain, excessive heat speeds up evaporation, making things dry out quickly.

Upsetting News and What to Do About It

Kids around the nation see troubling news reports about wildfires. And if you live in a fire-prone area, the media reports are almost constant—not to mention frightening. So what’s a parent to do?

As with so many things, being educated and informed is one answer. If you know and understand something and can act in positive ways as a result, you feel less helpless and more empowered. What’s more, there are advances in firefighting technology as well as long-term efforts underway to reduce the effects of climate change—though more are needed.

Here are some helpful resources you can share with your children:

  • To get a solid grounding in the science of wildfires, including the effects of climate change, check out this fast-paced SciShow Kids video (upper elementary and higher):

As a final thought, my hopes, admiration, and prayers are with the firefighters. They put their lives on the line every day to protect people, property, and the land we all love.


 

Featured Image – NPS Climate Change Resp / CC by 2.0

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