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Forest Fire Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Forest fires are uncontrolled fires that burn through natural areas, consuming everything in their paths. But even though they are devastating, there are benefits to forest fires. Keep reading to learn more.

A Campfire Gone Wild

Imagine that you are enjoying an evening around the campfire, toasting a marshmallow to a golden brown. Later that night, the fire is put out and the morning signals time to leave the campground. But the fire is still silently smoldering. Left unattended, the heat grows and sparks fly onto the grass nearby. Soon flames build, and a forest fire has begun. This unfortunate situation can become a raging inferno, devastating land, homes and lives.

Is there anything good about a forest fire? Let's find out.

What Are Characteristics of a Forest Fire?

A forest fire is a fire that burns out of control in a forest. Sometimes called wildfires, there are around 100,000 of them every year in the U.S. In all, these fires burn around 4-5 million acres of land. To put this into perspective, a football field is about one acre. So if you imagine 4-5 million football fields, that's a lot of burned land.

Forest fire raging in California
Forest fire

Forest fires are most common in the western states during the summertime. That is because in the west, rainfall is typically scarce during this time. Think about your lawn if it doesn't get water during the summer when the sun is out: it dries to a lovely shade of yellow, crunching under your feet. This very hot and dry environment creates prime conditions for a forest fire.

How Does a Forest Fire Start?

A forest fire is sparked by some type of heat source. Unfortunately, 4 out of 5 forest fires are started by people. As we pointed out earlier, many well-intended campers simply fail to completely put out their campfire. Cigarettes are a major cause as well. Ever seen someone throw a glowing cigarette butt from the car window? This easily sparks tinder-dry grasses, which can quickly start brush and forest fires.

Campfires are fun, but can be dangerous if not properly tended to
Campfire

People aren't the only ones who start forest fires. Nature also provides a very hot and powerful heat source in the form of a lightning strike. Thunderstorms make for a mixed blessing during fire season for this very reason, providing rain but also a potential fire-starter.

Lightning strikes can cause forest fires
lightning

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