Only you can prevent wildfires
Deacon Tom Cervone, Ph.D., Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C., and Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. M.S.
Our Mother Earth
Editor’s note: This series takes a deeper look at Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical－ On Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’.
Did you know that nearly 85% of wildfires in the United States are caused by humans (2000-2017 data based on Wildland Fire Management Information, and U.S. Forest Service Research Data Archive), while others by lightning? Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson (National Park Service, Wildfire Causes and Evaluations). Smokey Bear’s fire prevention message today is, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
- Check weather and drought conditions before lighting a fire
- Use extreme caution in lighting a fire in nature and be sure to douse it when you are done
- Know and follow local regulations regarding fire (burn bans, using fire rings, fireworks regulations)
- Know that prescribed (controlled) burns are set by authorized fire experts for natural ecosystems
- Maintain your vehicle and keep it out of dry grass
- Maintain tires, bearings, and axles on pull-behind trailers
As of Dec. 1, 2022, the United States had experienced 61,390 wildfires impacting 7,251,835 acres (Fire Weather and Avalanche Center, Fire Map). On this fire map, Indiana showed no wildfires at that time; but the Geographic Area Large Incident Report showed the Morgan Cave wildfire, started 10/19/22, burned 900 acres at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Indiana.
Wildfires kill people, animals and plants; destroy structures and towns; and create harmful smoke. Mudslides and flooding may occur after wildfires because there is little ground cover to absorb rainwater. Colorado Department of Transportation records show that agency crews have closed I-70 25 times due to mudslides since a 2020 fire (The Denver Post, Bruce Finley, 8/22/22). Biodiversity also can be affected by wildfires. The 2019-2020 bush fires in Australia destroyed an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom with nearly 3 billion animals killed or harmed (TheLetterFilm, released in the U.S. on 6/9/20).
Wildfires are becoming stronger and occurring more often. Recent years have seen record-breaking wildfire seasons across the world (United Nation environment programme, 2/23/22, Spreading like Wildfire: The Rising Threat of Extraordinary Landscape Fires). They report climate and land-use changes are making wildfires worse and anticipate a global increase of extreme fires even in areas previously unaffected.
With global temperatures and droughts on the rise, the need to reduce wildfire risk is especially important. Experts recommend rethinking the approach to extreme wildfires by calling for a new “Fire Ready Formula” that recognizes the importance of ecosystem restoration and utilizing prescribed burning to purposely set fire to an area in a controlled setting rather than risk the chance of a wildfire. This technique is a “win-win” because controlled burning removes accumulated hazardous wildfire fuel, while at the same time benefiting the ecosystem because most habitats are accustomed to periodic intervals of fire to sustain themselves.
The Nature Conservancy, in “Wildfires and Forest Management” (9/19/22), recognized the importance of fire as a management tool stating, “Fire has been essential to the health of forest ecosystems for millennia … and wildfires have shaped the diversity of life with nearly 80% of the native vegetation in North America evolved with fire … Indigenous peoples in North America skillfully used fire to manage the land, benefiting people and nature.”
What can we do?
Margo Robbins from the Yurok Tribe of the Indigenous Peoples Burn Network says,“You can fight fire with fire. There’s good fire and bad fire. And the good fire prevents the bad.”
Dr. Tom Cervone is a deacon at Holy Redeemer Parish in Evansville, and he has 50 years of experience in ecology. He graduated from St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan University. Daughter of Charity Sister Maureen Houlihan is a support sister on the Seton Harvest Farm started by the Daughters of Charity. This community-supported-agriculture farm grows all-natural produce for shareholders and the poor. Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. MS. is an award winning ELL (English Language Learner) teacher, who lives in Evansville with her family.