Wildfire is any large fire that gets out of control over a large area. You might think of it as something that only happens in the wilderness or in mountains but it can happen anywhere where there is fuel- dry material that burns, and oxygen. Wildfires have always been a natural part of Earth’s cycles (many started by lightning) but as population grows and spreads out, the impact of wildfires increases. Especially in populated areas, people are the biggest cause of wildfires, by careless burning, and through things as simple as sparks from lawn equipment, untended camp fires, and vehicle exhaust touching dry grass. Droughts and long dry periods increase the threat of wildfires.
Did you know that wildfires can be caused by the weather but they can also change the weather? They can even produce a whirl similar to a tornado. Check out NOAA’s fire weather website. If you live in a wooded or dry part of the world wildfires are not out of the question. Be prepared for the threat of wildfire or local fire that could impact your property and home. See current fire incidents around the United States. Just as you need an action plan for a hurricane or tornado you need to have a plan of action for fire safety.
There is more than just dry weather that goes into creating wildfires or woods fires. Other factors include plant type, lightning, terrain, wind direction, and careless human beings. The US Geological Survey helps you to further understand the risks and causes of fires in the wild. Wildfires are more likely in places experiencing drought. As you might expect there are meteorologists who specialize in predicting fire weather.
While wildfires are a serious threat to our homes and communities they are also a normal part of the life cycle of forests. They do have benefits. Many plants need brush cleared or the heat of fire to grow and thrive. Prescribed burns are when humans create or control a woods fire to benefit the environment. If you are planning a controlled burn you must know the fire weather forecast for your area otherwise you run the risk of creating a wildfire. Very large wildfires contribute heat and moisture to the atmosphere to generate a type of cumulus cloud known as a pyrocumulus. Look at these dramatic images of pyrocumulus.
Even at a distance the negative impact of fires to people is reduced air quality. Those who have respiratory illnesses should follow the air quality forecasts carefully when smoke moves into the area. Check air quality forecasts nationally, or air quality forecasts for Alabama.
Here are some good tips from the Florida Department of Health when fires cause poor air quality. If individuals experience respiratory problems such as wheezing, coughing, or difficulty in breathing, they should go into an air conditioned space and call their doctor if symptoms persist. Even for healthy individuals, smoke may irritate their respiratory system and produce scratchy throat and watery eyes.
Stay indoors if you experience symptoms outside. Run your air conditioner with a clean filter. Large commercial buildings may choose to close the fresh air intake on their system so that smoke and ash do not enter the building.
If you don’t have an air conditioner, and are a comfortable temperature inside with the windows closed, stay inside. If your home is too warm, and/or you are experiencing symptoms in your home, seek alternative shelter.
Keep particle levels inside and around your home lower by not burning outdoor yard waste, smoking tobacco, or using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs, gas stoves and candles.
Delay vacuuming when possible, as vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home.
Follow your doctor’s advice about taking your medications and adhere to your asthma management plan if you have asthma or other lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
A distant cousin to a fire whirl, is what’s known as a dust devil or dust whirl. It forms on a hot day when wind is light. A column of rapidly rising warm air pulls air in from nearby. That air starts to spin as it rises. You don’t even need to have a cloud above it.