What are zombie fires and how dangerous are they?

What are zombie fires and how dangerous are they?

What are zombie fires and how dangerous are they?

Despite being in the midst of winter in Canada, over 150 active wildfires continue to rage. Among them, numerous are referred to as zombie fires, which have been persistently burning since 2023. What impact will they have on the upcoming summer?

Similar to animals, fires can hibernate during cold weather, smoldering beneath the surface for extended periods. Holdover or zombie fires stand out due to the smoke rising from the ground instead of blazing flames.

Where do zombie fires originate, and how do they start?

What are zombie fires and how dangerous are they?

Zombie fires have their origins primarily in the cool boreal conifer forests of Canada, Alaska, Northern Europe, and Siberia. These forests are characterized by a dense layer of easily combustible needles and vegetation covering the ground.

The presence of peaty soils in these regions further contributes to the occurrence of zombie fires. Peat, being highly flammable, acts as a precursor to coal. When the boreal forests catch fire, the flames easily spread underground, where they can persist for a significant period. This is especially true when the soil is dry.

Interestingly, even when it snows, these fires are not extinguished easily. The limited moisture that reaches the soil is insufficient to put out the flames. If there is an abundance of peat and other plant residue in the ground, these fires can continue burning throughout the winter season.

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Is there a connection between climate change and zombie fires?

Firstly, climate change, caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels, has led to increased periods of drought and heat. These conditions create a favorable environment for wildfires, including fires, to occur and persist.

Secondly, the warming of the Arctic at a faster rate than the rest of the world has contributed to the rise of zombie fires. The hotter temperatures and drier conditions in this region make it more susceptible to these smoldering fires.

Furthermore, studies have shown that there is a correlation between hotter summers and higher numbers of zombie fires in boreal forests. For example, in 2024, western Canada experienced a significant increase in zombie fires following its worst fire season in history the previous summer.

Lastly, zombie fires also have an impact on climate change. When they burn, they release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to the overall increase in global temperatures.

Overall, the relationship between climate change and holdover fires highlights the interconnectedness of human activities, environmental conditions, and the occurrence of wildfires.

Read Also: Is Thailand’s ‘Clean Air Act’ Sufficient to Eradicate Pollution?

What impact do winter fires have on spring and summer?

What are zombie fires and how dangerous are they?

Winter fires can have a significant impact on the upcoming spring and summer seasons. If not extinguished by thawing snow, these holdover fires can increase the risk of wildfires in the warmer months. In fact, a gust of wind in the spring can easily reignite a surface-level blaze. Hibernating zombie fires can even cause the wildfire season to start earlier in the spring, especially in dry conditions or when there is little winter snow to moisten the soil. Extinguishing these fires is challenging due to their ability to spread in densely compacted material. Water alone may not be sufficient to put them out, as it might not fully penetrate the fire area, leaving behind smoldering nests. Complete removal of the burning ground layers is often necessary to extinguish these zombie fires.

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