Noticed The Increasing Wildfires? Grass Is The Reason Why


Easy to discover, hardy, and seemingly harmless, this plant is the source of an increasing number of large, swiftly spreading, destructive wildfires in the United States. Grass is as ubiquitous as the sun, and given the appropriate meteorological conditions, it may ignite wildfires with just a spark.

Pollution warms the globe, increasing temperature and precipitation, which increases the size and frequency of fires. Grass is becoming king because the fires are exacerbating the environmental harm. As the US Department of Agriculture’s research service study ecologist Adam Mahood once said, “Name a place and there’s a grass that can live there.” “There will be some kind of grass on any 10-foot area that isn’t gravel.”

According to CNN’s fire specialists, grass fires often develop more slowly and don’t continue as long as forest fires. They can, however, spread far more swiftly, elude firefighters, and burn into newly constructed residences in wildlands that are prone to catching fire.

According to a recent study, the number of homes destroyed by wildfires in the US over the past 30 years has more than doubled as they grow larger and worse. Most of the fires sparked by humans started in grass and bushes rather than in woods.

This is due to the fact that the West has accounted for more than two-thirds of all residences that have burned down in the previous 30 years. Nearly 80% of those were damaged by grass and sod fires.

The so-called “wildland-urban interface,” which is adjacent to wildlands that are prone to fire, is seeing an increase in construction. The amount of land burning in this vulnerable area has increased significantly since the 1990s. There are also more houses now. According to the same estimate, there will be over 44 million dwellings in the interface by 2020, a 46% increase over the last 30 years.

While it is evident that constructing in high-risk areas increases the risk of fire, it also increases the likelihood that a fire would occur in the first place because individuals set most fires.

In the sparsely populated areas of Bill King’s holdings in Kansas and Colorado, the border between wildlands and cities is home to more than 80,000 dwellings. According to the US Forest Service employee, residents who live near the environment must take precautions to prevent harm from occurring.

Even with a significant fuel break, King stated that property owners “need to do their part too” because these fires can spread miles away. This is a result of the fires growing so large, fierce, and occasionally wind-driven.

Excellent potential for wildfires

The fires brought on by climate change are attacking the western part of the United States from every direction. According to University of California, Merced climate expert John Abatzoglou, “the places that burn the most are the ones that get average amounts of rain.” “It’s kind of like Goldilocks.” “Just right, not too wet or too dry, with lots of sparks.”

Perennial plants are ideal for starting a fire because of a variety of seasonal extremes that occur in the midst of America’s Plains, which are typically windy and dry. This area of the US has more grass than other areas, therefore fires can continue to fuel up here. There are more large-scale fires in the region, such as the Texas megafire Smokehouse Creek Fire, as well as deadlier ones, such as the Colorado Marshall Fire in 2021 that destroyed over 1,000 homes.

More grass grows in the spring when it rains. That winter, it sleeps, or “plays dead,” as the saying goes. With less snow in the Northern Plains and warmer winters elsewhere, it gets warmer and dryer in late winter and early spring. Todd Lindley, a fire weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, and King both say this.

According to Lindley, grass poses a particular risk as its conditions vary according to the season. For brief periods of time, grass can catch fire more quickly than wooded areas. Plants can lose water in as little as an hour or even a day following a rainstorm. Invasive plants that burn hotter and longer than native plants, strong winds, and a spark can all make a grass fire extremely deadly.

“If you get the right sequence of these multiple extremes that happen one after the other, it can be game on for this kind of wildfire,” Abatzoglou stated. “In essence, you’re facilitating the fire’s spread there.”

Development Of Grass

According to King, years of neglecting the forests and severe drought are causing fires in western woodlands to grow larger and more intense. “When I first started, a big fire was 30,000 acres, and now that’s just small stuff,” said King. “I’d have one that big maybe once a year or twice a year, but now we hear about 100,000-acre forest fires.”

Forests also have grass, which functions as a kind of fuse, connecting easier-to-light finer fuels to larger tree systems that are experiencing drought to ignite and spread more powerful flames. Where the trees once stood, grass now sprouts. After a fire, grass regrows considerably more quickly than other plants, and it occasionally reemerges in a few months. King has firsthand experience with this.

“It grows back so quickly that you could see green grass growing in burned-grass areas in just one or two days,” said King.”Recovering forests could take years or generations, or they might not recover at all in our lifetimes or the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.”

In the West, more burnt plants are giving way to native and non-native grasses. According to Mahood of the USDA, it’s creating fires in the desert where none previously existed. The same drought-driven fires that are growing larger in desert regions are occurring because annual grasses do not thrive year-round like perennial grasses do in the Plains.

These plants develop swiftly after it rains, dying and leaving a carpet of fuel for fire on the desert floor. Mahood cited two recent fires in the Mojave National Preserve in California as excellent instances. Because redbrome grass spreads swiftly, those flames destroyed over a million famed Joshua trees and hundreds of thousands of acres of the Mojave Desert.

Then native plants cannot resurrect as the weather turns hotter and drier. The grass has grown considerably. The largest ecosystem in the Lower 48 states is the well-known, short sagebrush of the West. But half of it has been lost or destroyed in the last 20 years. According to a USGS study, an area of sagebrush about the size of Delaware is destroyed by fire, grass, and other reasons each year.

Fire risk is higher today and in the future due to increased grass and a variety of climate-related causes. Mahood continued, “Right now it may seem bad, but in ten years it won’t seem nearly as bad.” “The fire season was horrible twenty years ago. That seems insignificant now.”