August 2009 Newsletter

Read the August 2009 Newsletter: How Can Geography Prepare Your Family for Disasters?

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GeoFeature: 4-H “Alert, Evacuate, and Shelter” Program
Geography in the News: GIS Aids Planners in Katrina Aftermath
Blog: Earth Science in Australia



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Wildfires: A Force to be Reckoned With


Photo courtesy Mark Thiessen, National Geographic

Did you know that more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4 million to 5 million acres of land in the U.S. every year? Wildfires, which travel at speeds of up to 14 miles per hour, can be extremely destructive, but they are truly “natural” disasters, necessary in nature’s cycle of birth and death.  Fires return nutrients to the soil and also act as disinfectants, removing disease-ridden plant and insects.  Their destruction of the thick tree canopies allows new birth on the forest floor.  

Not all fires occur naturally, however, as a result of forces such as lightening. A majority–4 out of 5–can be attributed to human sources, such as campfires. Human error, coupled with ample amounts of fuel, oxygen, and dry conditions, creates a recipe for catastrophe. Recent years of hotter-than-average temperatures and extended periods of drought, along with some misplaced efforts to curtail critical, small-scale natural blazes, have dramatically increased the incidence of massive, destructive fires.

What can you do to prevent wildfires? Take a cue from everyone’s favorite friend of the forest, Smokey the Bear, who celebrates his 65th anniversary this year! Fire prevention starts with knowledge, followed by responsible action.

Be awestruck.

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