Every year forest fires consume thousands of acres of forests and wild lands. Trees are destroyed and homes are put at risk. Amid all this destruction is a required health benefit for the forest. Fires have been healing and improving small and large forests around the world since before modern man began walking the Earth. In recent decades, the benefits of a natural forest fire have been examined more closely after years of fire suppression put many forests at increased risk of larger fires.
One way the health of a forest is improved after a fire is the seeding and germination of new plants. Pine trees drop their cones in a fire. These cones open up in the heat of the flame and, after a delay, allow seeds to emerge onto the soil. The seeds are better able to germinate after the layer of dried and dead leaves has been cleared by the fire. Smaller plants like geraniums and berry vines grow better in the direct sunlight available after a fire. They are able to develop from seeds and roots that have been buried for years.
A forest fire’s health benefits extend beyond allowing for new growth. It also minimizes the chance of disease and insects infecting the forest. Older trees that may be carrying a disease are destroyed in the fire, removing the disease from the area while new trees and plants grow. Insect plagues are also minimized by the removal of a food source for the insects as well as any eggs that may have been laid in the bark or leaves of the burned trees.
Another benefit of natural forest fires seems to be contradictory at first. The burning of dead leaves, old trees, and fallen branches decreases the possibility of a larger, more damaging fire later. The build up of this debris over a long period of would fuel a larger, hotter fire when it was eventually ignited. More frequent, smaller fires minimize the total amount of damage to the forest itself. They also prevent the fire from spreading to a larger area, thus preventing massive damage that could occur with a raging fire.