What Happens After a Forest Fire?

What Happens After a Forest Fire?

by Susan Huebert
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Imagine what it would be like to watch a forest fire. Would you feel sad as you watched the trees and bushes burn and gradually turn to ash? Would you feel glad at the thought of all of the new life forest fires bring? It might seem strange to be happy at the thought of so much destruction, but forest fires can be a good and necessary part of the natural cycle of life. Without them, forests might never be the rich, green places they are – homes for animals and places where people can enjoy the outdoors.

Every spring is the beginning of forest fire season in Canada, when about 10,000 fires will burn over the next few months. Some of those fires come from natural events, such as lightning striking a tree. More than half of them start because of human activity, such as when people forget to put out their campfires properly. By the time the snow and cold weather come at the end of the fire season, about 25,000 square kilometres of forest will be gone. Fires also pollute the air with carbon dioxide, which can make it difficult for people and animals to breathe. The animals that survived the fire will have to find new places to live, and plants will have to grow in place of the ones that were destroyed.

Despite all of the destruction they cause, fires can also be good for the forests. They clear out all kinds of dead wood and thick grass that can choke new plants. With the extra space to grow, the plants can thrive. Trees like the Douglas fir and white spruce grow best on ground that has had a recent fire. Jack pines are especially dependent on fire. Their seeds come in thick cones which open up only with intense heat from a fire. Without an occasional fire to open up the cones, jack pines would eventually disappear. Many plants like these have ways of surviving even the worst forest fires.
Despite opening up the ground for new growth, forest fires can damage the soil on the ground. With no plant roots to hold it down, the earth can blow away in the wind or wash away in heavy rains. Fire can also change the kinds of nutrients, such as nitrogen, that are available to feed the plants. The temperature of the ground can also rise, making it hard for certain types of plants to grow again, especially if the fire also affects the amount of moisture in the soil. Very intense fires can also affect small animals living in the ground, such as earthworms. Because these animals help to keep the soil healthy and full of nutrients, their loss can destroy the ground for years after a forest fire.

So are forest fires good or bad? It depends on where they are, how big they become, and many other factors. However, fires are part of the natural cycle of life, bringing renewal and new growth to the world’s wooded areas.

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