Amazon fires explained: what are they, why are they so damaging, and how can we stop them?
« Imagine a rainforest at dawn – the tall canopy laden with dripping
ferns and orchids, tree trunks covered in spongy mosses and lichens,
and the morning mist only slowly burning away as the sun rises. While there is fuel everywhere, it seems unimaginable that such humid ecosystems could ever catch fire.
And without human intervention, they don’t. The charcoal record points towards infrequent fires in the Amazon even during periods of
pre-Columbian human settlement, and the 8,000 or more Amazonian tree species have none of the evolutionary adaptations to fire found in their savanna or boreal cousins.
But, with thousands of fires currently burning across the Amazon, it’s
worth looking at how these wildfires behave. In this context, a
“wildfire” is one which has gone out of control, even if started by
humans. What do they mean for a forest that hasn’t evolved with fire?
And what is needed to prevent further damage?
Contrary to many images circulated online depicting blazing canopies, wildfires in previously undisturbed tropical forests do not appear as ecosystem changing events.
Flames advance just 200 to 300 metres a day and rarely exceed 30cm in height, burning only leaf litter and fallen wood. (…).