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Southern California has long been known for its forest fires. With its hot, dry climate and the Santa Ana winds, it is very easy for any forest fire to get out of hand quickly. In 2007, the month of October brought massive destruction to the counties of Southern California. With a combination of fires occurring as a result of nature, human error, and arson, thousands of acres have been debilitated by flames, thousands of homes have been lost leaving millions of people out on the street, and some lives have been lost. Over $1 billion in damages have been caused by fires in San Diego County alone (Seattle Times, October 24, 2007). In August 2009, nearly 200 square miles of the Angeles National Forest were scorched, threatening 12,000 homes and leaving death and destruction in the fire's wake.

Forest fires occur in all parts of the world such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United States. They have been a part of our lives since humans first walked this Earth and will continue to be until long after we are gone. Sometimes they are caused by people, and sometimes by Mother Nature. Forest fires can be a necessity at times, but can also devastate several species living in and around the forests. We will take a closer look at forest fires to see the good things they do for the forests as well as their negative impacts.

"Of all of the natural forces that have shaped forest ecosystems over the millennia, fire has had the most impact" (Eco-Link). For some people, fires are viewed as horrible disasters that must be contained; in reality, they are sometimes needed and are created intentionally. The Native Americans used fires for benefits, such as protection from incoming troops, clearing land for settlement, and agriculture. The one thing that separates good fire from bad fire is control. "The application of regular fires is a critical process for forest health" (Eco-Link).

Along with the damage that is done on the ground, changes occur in the air and sky. "Wild land fire directly affects the amount of airborne particulates in the atmosphere" (Eco-Link). Because of this, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has standards set for any prescribed fires set. Forest fires also greatly affect the global carbon cycle through the release of carbon into the atmosphere, "with increased fire frequency generally causing a net reduction in biospheric carbon storage" (Eco-Link). By some estimates, fires contribute about 30% of total yearly carbon dioxide emissions (Global Climate Change, 2002). This problem caused by forest fires adds to the already large amounts of greenhouse gas contributions, which in turn affects global warming.

The need for better fire management policies became apparent during the 2009 Angeles National Forest fires. The Angeles National Forest fires are an excellent example of how human actions and natural changes affect the ecological balance within an ecosystem. Firefighters brought in to fight the fires suggested the problem was the 40 years since the area had last burned. (Arizona Republic, Sep 1, 2009). Several government agencies are contemplating the revision of existing wildfire management policies and are interested in relevant Earth System Science(ESS) information before modifications can be considered.



Basic: The California Department of Insurance (CDI) is interested in informing the public about reducing wildfires and moderating potential losses of property and life. Your ESS group has been asked to create a pamphlet that will present the problem of wildfires through the lens of ESS interaction analysis. The CDI is looking for recommendations for forest fire prevention and mitigation strategies derived from the ESS analysis.


Date: 8/30/2010

Scenario Images:

Santa Barbara CA, Wildfire
Santa Barbara California, August 10, 2007.
Photo Creative Commons by Eric Charlton

Hollywood and Hell
Hollywood and Hell, Wildfire in Hollywood
May 8, 2007, Creative commons
by Eric Castro

Fire, Griffith Park, CA
Santa Barbara,CA wildfire
May8 2007
Creative Commons Photo
by Michael Stanton



CU-Boulder Researcher: Wildfire Erosion Effects Will Show Up In Reservoirs, Ecosystems (Cycle A)
Discusses contamination by erosion as a result of wildfires.


Earth System Science (Cycle A)
This site shows different interactions between the spheres and discusses how they are affected by fires.


Forest Fires (Cycle A)
Discusses causes of forest fires; site includes fire facts and case studies.


Forest Fires - An Overview (Cycle A)
Good overview of forest fires, from causes to fighting.


Graphic Organizers (Cycle A)
Graphic organizers for stimulating ideas, organizing concepts and exposing prior knowledge. This web page provides examples of graphic organizers that can help stimulate ideas, generate and collect previous knowledge about concepts relating to the topic at hand.


How Plants Use Fire (And Are Used By It) (Cycle A)
Part of the PBS NOVA Online Fire Wars site; discusses organismal adaptations to fire.


Causes of Forest Fires (Cycle B)
A pie chart showing the different causes of forest fires.


County of Los Angeles Fire Department (Cycle B)
Fire Prevention Tips from the County of Los Angeles Fire Department.


Fire and Aviation Management (Cycle B)
This website provides links to fire news, publications and articles, fire stories, photo galleries, an external link to understanding fire, and a firewise comm guide...


Fires, Floods and Mudslides (Cycle B)
This site discusses the California fires and associated mudslides during the raining season due to wildfires.


Global Climate change (Cycle B)
Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, Cryosphere, Biosphere... description of forest fire sources of greenhouse gases.


Pollution from California Wildfires Spreads Across the United States (Cycle B)
This NASA/JPL website shows how pollution including carbon monoxide spread across the United States from the California Station Fire.


California Wildfires Map (Cycle C)
Distribution map of California wildfires as of 8/28/09.


Eco-link, Linking Social, Economic, and Ecological Issues (Cycle C)
This PDF provides an overview of how forest fire is both useful and harmful with its powers of distruction and regeneration


GES DISC - California Wildfires (Cycle C)
Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center: Discussion of atmospheric changes resulting from California wildfires. Uses NASA Giovanni data, available online.


National Wildfire Coordination Group (Cycle C)
This web site provides a list of agencies that are involved in the wildland fire education working team. This site provides additional links to resources and links regarding wildlands and wildfires.


Natural History of Fire & Flood Cycles (Cycle C)
Describes natural causes of fires and their role, specifically in reference to Southern California.


Soil Erosion Control after Wildfire (Cycle C)
Describes techniques for erosion management after wildfires.


Temperate Forest Foundation, Eco links (Cycle C)
Provides PDF resource copies related to forest fire and ecology. The following periodicals are availble in both PDF and hard copy: Climate Change: Forests and Carbon Sequestration, Wildlife and Forests, Forests as Financial Assets, Re-United: Finger-Jointing Consumers & Producers, Embracing Change: Lessons From Nature, Embracing Change: Lessons From Nature The Miracle Resource.


Sample Investigations:


MIT Forest Fire Curriculum (Cycle A)
This curriculum covers a two week period. It suggests many activities and assignments in relation to wildfires. Students are introduced to the conditions conducive to wildfires, and can manipulate simulations to explore factors involved in forest fires.
Difficulty: beginner


Safety First, An Educator's Desk Lesson Plan (Cycle A)
Teaches importance of fire safety to children grades K-1
Difficulty: beginner


American Field Guide: Fire and fire suppression (Cycle B)
In this lesson, students will examine their assumptions about forest fires. They will learn about the conflicts involved with the forest service's new strategy, and they will study one case where a prescribed natural burn had a significant impact on a later, uncontrolled wildfire.
Difficulty: intermediate


Discovery Education: Forest fires (Cycle B)
This activity explores the impact of forest fires. Designed to tap specific skills and knowledge through scientific inquiry, the activity more generally seeks to stimulate thought about the long-term impacts of a forest fires.

Difficulty: intermediate


Fires off the California coast line (Cycle C)
A web quest constructed to guide students to different URL's regarding Forest fires. Start at California Wildfires, go to Lesson plans, select Cycle see and begin!
Difficulty: advanced


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