When we hear about wildfires in the U.S, we might think of states like California and Oregon.
But in Florida, the Chipola Complex has burned over 34,000 acres and led to the evacuation of more than 1,100 people from their homes.
It turns out that the damage had been magnified due to Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm that swept across Florida in 2018. How can a hurricane that occurred in 2018 be the cause of a wildfire in 2022?
The hurricane provided the fuel for these fires. Usually, fires only burn using ground cover and understory vegetation. However, the hurricane destroyed tree branches and trunks, which then collapsed onto the forest floor and became available for fires to burn. Furthermore, with forest canopies (tops of forests) removed, more sunlight reached the forest floor. This allowed new vegetation to grow, creating more fuel for the fires.
Usually, a forest’s fuel load is less than 10 tons per acre. After Hurricane Michael, the fuel load for many forests in Florida exceeded 100 tons per acre. With warmer weather increasing the frequency of hurricanes, the fires in Florida are a reminder of how extreme events are interconnected.
Sources: CNN, NYTimes