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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Handling bushfires and other natural heat-related hazards

Fire destroys many lives and the environment. It also creates health problems that can be reduced with proper fire education. Bushfires are most common and most severe during autumn and summer in southeast Australia. There is also a broad agreement that American West forest fires are getting worse, according to Vox. The continuation of plant growth is making fires spread quicker. These fires are hard to stop and extremely dangerous for a multitude of reasons.

Environmental concerns

Fires cause extreme damage to homes, lifestyles and the environment. Forests can take years to regrow and create a new ecosystem after a harsh fire. These fires also will harm many animals and their sources of nutrients.

Large fires have the potential to impact an entire species. This could even lead to extinction of some animals. If there is a group of native animals in a specific area and a wildfire occurs, it may be the end of the species.

Fires alter soil. Fires lead to a loss of topsoil, which negatively affects nutrient retention and water infiltration. The fire also leads to combustion of organic material.

Carbon is also released into the atmosphere, which can make areas unsafe to be in. This alters the atmosphere and can lead to air toxicology issues and health complications.

Overall safety concerns

A way to protect the home from extreme heat and bushfires is by investing in bushfire shutters. These shutters block heat from entering the home and protect the inside from embers and strong heat.

National Geographic lists precautions to take when camping regarding forest fires such as: fully putting out and throwing away cigarettes and making sure to extinguish campfires. A great way to minimize these deadly forest fires is to attempt to minimize the possibility for human error. Having a fire extinguisher nearby is also a key to safety. It is crucial to safety for a fire to be fully put out.

If a fire seems too big to put out alone, call the nearest fire department just to make sure it doesn’t spread. It is better to be safe than sorry.

There are many discussions around the world about how to reduce the amount of deadly natural fires. Some controversy surrounds the topic due to conflicting beliefs about global warming. Many feel that fire procedures need to change if global warming is indeed happening. Opposing viewpoints are reluctant to listen in many cases because of the global warming argument.

Health concerns  

The biggest health threat from smoke is the fine particles that enter the air. These particles enter the lungs and can lead to many health complications. There is also the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when there are brushfires or forest fires. This might go unnoticed initially, but carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly. The health complications that come with these natural hazards are more dangerous for people with pre-existing health conditions such as lung disease or asthma.  

Wood smoke contains a mixture of microscopic droplets and particles and invisible gases that spread downwind from the source of fire, according to CBS News. The materials create a mixture in the air from the varieties of trees and land being burned. These emissions also vary depend on what material is burning or in flames. The mixture is mostly carbon monoxide, volatile organic carbon and other particles such as: alkaline ash, black carbon, organic carbon and polyaromatic hydrocarbon. Polyaromatic hydrocarbon is a cancer-causing agent. With that being said, these materials are not meant to be in the lungs. This makes wildfires and brushfires hazardous to health—even deadly.

The best way to deal with these health concerns is to stay with friends or family who live far away from these smoky areas. This can be difficult when the fires are spreading rapidly across a large area of land.

Some of the products marketed such as air fresheners, candles or oil vaporizers are actually worse for the air. They claim to clean the air using ozone, but these products might actually release ozone into the home. Face masks might become necessary in situations that escalate. These masks are made of special fabric that is designed to catch the dangerous particles before inhalation. If these aren’t kept in the home, using a cloth to place over the mouth and nose is another solution.

According to Healthline, researchers found in a 2015 study that there was an almost 7 percent increase in cardiac arrest in one Australian state during one wildfire season. People with pre-existing heart conditions may be at even more risk when brushfires or wildfires occur.

These natural disasters and man-made disasters can foster lasting health and environmental distress. It is an issue that should continue to be discussed on local, state, national and global levels.

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