The devastation wrought by a forest fire is hard to comprehend. The scorched earth and blackened trees present what might be considered a lunar landscape. Of course a lunar landscape would never have trees, burned or otherwise. Fire, of course, is a natural element, often produced by lightning strikes, and sadly, equally as often caused by human actions. But it is well known that fires provide a rejuvenating influence of some plant communities. In areas where fires are common, plant communities evolve to cope with, and take advantage of fire. Of course that description is overly anthropomorphic and implies intentionality on the part of the plant community. We know, of course, that what we actually see is the survival of plant species that are most able to survive fire and reproduce. But not all fires are created equal, and thus the ability of a species to survive fires may not be sufficient in every case.
In the United States, since the development of the policy of preventing forest fires, it has become apparent that the fires we see now are hotter, and may be larger and more destructive than previous fires. This is in part the result of the build-up of plant material that is more prone to burn when a fire does start. By preventing "normal" fires, fuel in the form of dead plant material builds up in forests and provides much more burnable material than was previously the case.
Along with the policy of preventing forest fires, we've seen an almost simultaneous encroachment of urban areas on forested areas, with the concomitant drive to protect homes from fires. And while this makes sense from a humanitarian and social perspective, it ends up serving as a viscous cycle in which we work harder to protect homes by preventing fires, which only leads to bigger fires that threaten to destroy more homes. Perhaps it would make more sense if society decided that building homes in areas prone to fires, like the chaparral-covered hills of southern California, was something to be discouraged.
Along with the most common factors that lead to fires in ecosystems, we also now have to contend with climate changes that are creating conditions that in some instances are making fire even more likely. Southern California again is a case in point. Being a native of southern California, I am well aware of natural variation in rainfall we normally experience, or at least have experienced over the last 50 years or so. But in the past few years those conditions seem to have taken a turn for the worst. Of course, this may all be part of a natural cycle, but regardless of the cause, it seems like wildfires are becoming much more common as a result of reduced rainfall. Now instead of facing wildfires in the fall, they seem to be as likely to occur in the early spring, or any other time of year. That a similar pattern is being seen throughout the western United States, suggests this isn't simply a local phenomenon.
I don't have any answers or solutions. I just wonder if the stark landscapes created by fires will become much more the norm, than the exception.
This photo was taken with a Canon 5D Mk III and an EF 17-40 mm f/4L USM lens zoomed to 40 mm. Exposure was 1/6000 sec. at f /5.6 and ISO 3200.