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Scorched Earth: The Past, Present and Future of Human Influences on Wildfires
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Sep 20, 2011

Satellite studies indicate that more than 30 percent of the Earth is subjected to frequent fires.

Fires have continuously occurred on Earth for at least the last 400 million years. But since the 1970s, the frequency of wildfires has increased at least four-fold, and the total size of burn areas has increased at least six-fold in the western United States alone. Steadily rising, the U.S.'s bill for fighting wildfires now totals $1.5 billion per year.

How much of the increases in the frequency and size of fires are due to human activities? No one knows for sure. But a paper in this week's issue of the Journal of Biogeography puts the role of fire in natural ecosystems into context and provides support for efforts to plan for future risks from wildfires.

Produced by an international team of researchers, the paper presents a new framework for considering wildfires based on the Earth's pre-human fire history, ways that humans have historically used and managed fire and ways that they currently do so.

"We need to look into the past to understand our current and future relationship with fire activity," says Jennifer Balch of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

This research emphasizes the importance of understanding the relative influences of climate, human ignition sources and cultural practices in particular environments in order to design sustainable fire management practices that protect human health, property and ecosystems.

More information about this research, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, is provided in the accompanying interview with Balch, as well as in a press release issued by the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Related Links
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis
Forest and Wild Fires - News, Science and Technology


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Spain battles wildfire, evacuates 200
Madrid (AFP) Sept 12, 2011
Firefighters backed by planes and helicopters battled towering flames in southern Spain Monday, trying to tame a forest fire that forced 200 people to evacuate, officials said. Whipped up by warm winds, the blaze spread quickly in the popular tourist province of Malaga. "The fire broke out yesterday in high temperatures, winds of more than 20 kilometres per hour (12 mph), and a breakout ... read more

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