How to stop the wildfires in Alaska: the heated debate goes on. There is no clear answer to it. Nor is it fully acknowledged that these fires are more than just little scorches on the surface of the Earth. There is a latent danger lurking in those forests, and as they burn, it’s becoming less and less inactive.
We tend to think of wildfires as fire running amok among big areas covered by forests. And that is basically it. But in Alaska, things are different in a very specific way, which makes the whole threat of a burning forest all the more real.
In late June, fires sprung all over the Alaskan forests as a massive and destructive lightning storm swept through the skies over the northernmost state of the U.S., leaving behind brightly lit trees here and there. Well, in about 300 places.
The fire spread quickly through the woods, devastating all in its path. Scorching the ground. Burning the trees. The authorities battled the wild flames valiantly. The fire show on the news was the Fish Creek Fire, located south of Fairbanks, at about an hour. But that’s just for show, literally.
The Fish Creek Fire is just about over. It spanned 7,500 acres, and its main part is finished. Behind it lies destruction. A desolate landscape of burnt tree corpses.
Yet, that was just one of the 300 fire fronts where fire fighters are battling the nearly unstoppable force of the flames. It is, effectively, the most destructive phenomenon in nature, and it can lead to climate change far more rapidly and drastically than us humans would ever do.
The underlying problem is that not only the trees and a small portion of the weeds and leaves on the ground are the ones burning. After the fires settle, they go underground. Literally. Beneath the Alaskan forests are piles upon piles of dead organic material. Due to low temperatures, this organic material has not fully decomposed. Therefore it just gathered in bigger and taller piles until it covered the ground.
In this duff, as it is called, there lay stored in a freezer about 1,700 billion tons of our atmosphere’s arch-enemy: carbon. The total area where forests have been destroyed by fire – across Alaska as well as Canada – is 11 million acres. That’s just this year.
It’s been the most severe wildfire in these spaces since records began being taken. The threat is real. If solutions aren’t found for the wildfires to come, then we might be looking at one of the potentially dooming elements that trigger sever climate change.