"How Megafires Are Remaking the World"

"In our Pyrocene age, enormous wildfires aren’t merely damaging ecosystems but transforming them."

"On Aug. 15, a small wildfire was detected in the hills above West Kelowna, in British Columbia. The landscape was parched and the wind was fierce, and over the next few days the modest blaze exploded into a raging conflagration. It raced down into the valley and toward Okanagan Lake. Wind blew red-hot embers across the water, sparking new fires around the city of Kelowna.

“I didn’t sleep much the night that the West Kelowna fires crossed the lake,” said Karen Hodges, who lives in Kelowna. “I could see the fires from my window. And so I was thinking about people I know in the valley and where their houses were.”

Dr. Hodges, a conservation ecologist at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, also found herself worried about wildlife. She had been studying some Western screech owls that had been nesting in the heart of the fast-moving inferno. “That speed of fire would be difficult for animals to evacuate in front of,” she said. Had the owls escaped in time? And after Canada’s worst wildfire season on record, what would be left for the survivors?

Fire is a natural phenomenon; some species actually benefit from its effects and even those that don’t can be remarkably resilient in the face of flames. But as fires intensify, they are beginning to outstrip nature’s ability to bounce back. “Not all fires have the same impact,” said Morgan Tingley, an ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “These megafires are not good for ecosystems.”

Megafires, which dwarf typical wildfires in size, have an immediate ecological toll, killing individual plants and animals that might have survived more contained blazes. In the longer term, changing fire patterns could drive some species out of existence, transform landscapes and utterly remake ecosystems."

Emily Anthes reports for the New York Times October 15, 2023.

Source: NYTimes, 10/16/2023