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Fire is viewed as a major hazard that causes extensive damage to property, people, animals and the natural ecosystem of the environment. Fire is a combination of heat, oxygen, fuels and an ignition source such as intensive heat or lightening.
Fires can be controlled or uncontrolled where the uncontrolled fires are those that burn without any control being put in place to minimise the damage. Controlled fires otherwise referred to as prescribed fires are those that are applied to a particular environment under specific weather or terrain so as to achieve a natural objective.
The conditions that create an environment for the occurrence of fire include dry weather, dry grass, trees or bushes or dry terrains. These conditions are also known as the fire fuels because they enhance the combustion of the fire. Other fire fuels are cigarettes or smoke embers that have been left to burn. Fire is known to burn more quickly on slopes or flat terrains.
Understanding fires, their causes and effects to the environment and people enables the creation of prevention and control strategies. Most fires that occur are usually unexpected and uncontrolled but there is a sense of predictability in terms of the fire’s behaviour.
It is however difficult to predict how people will react to the fire as different people have different reactions to unexpected situations. Some of the most common reactions to fire are panic, shock and a sense of helplessness on what to do when faced with a raging fire that is threatening to destroy property and people’s lives.
The purpose of the research paper will be to examine fire, its effect to the environment with focus on human beings and how it can be prevented and controlled.
Background of Fire: Effects of Fire
The effects of fire are the physical, chemical and biological impacts that the fire has to the environment and the natural ecosystem. They are the results of an interaction between ignition sources such as heat, oxygen and the fire fuels such as dry grass, or dry trees with the properties of the environment.
The effects of fire can be categorised as the abiotic and the biotic effects of fire. Abiotic effects include aspects such as soil properties, air and water quality, nutritional cycle of the ecosystem. The biotic effects of fire include the natural ecosystem or environment that includes plants, vegetation, and animals (Omi and Huffman 138).
The effect of fire on the air quality of a particular environment can be harmful to that environment and its inhabitants. It affects the water quality directly by increasing the temperature of the water as well as the natural nutrients that are found in the water. It affects water indirectly by increasing the levels of sedimentation and changing the morphology of the water channel.
It affects the soil nutrients by altering the chemical, physical and biological balance of the soil in an indirect way. It indirectly affects the vegetation by changing the composition of the plants organic matter and the soil nutrients needed by these plants to grow (Omi and Huffman 138).
The effects of fire on plant species in a natural ecosystem is that it causes plant destruction and reduces plant species if the fire occurs regularly in that particular ecosystem. Fire effects on animals is increased mortality rates among animal species, extensive changes to the wildlife habitats and increased animal migrations to areas that have fewer fire occurrences. Its effect on human beings can be viewed to be in terms of psychological, emotional, physiological and physical damage (Omi and Huffman 138).
Objectives and Aims of the Research
The objectives of conducting the research are:
- To develop prevention strategies that will be used to prevent fire occurrences in the event they happen
- To develop fire control strategies that will be incorporated by the general population to deal with fire.
The aim of carrying out the research was to:
- To highlight the effects of fire to the human populations environment by looking at the economic, natural and social environment.
- To gain background information on fire, its causes and effects to the environment with focus particular focus on the human population
- To look at how people react to occurrences of fire and fire situations
The literature review will mostly deal with reviewing existing literature on the aspect of fire, the effects of fire to the human population, and to their health, economic and natural environment.
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The relationship between fire and people has always been complex and difficult to deal with and manage. While fire ecologists view fires to be beneficial to the human population, health workers and the government view fires to be detrimental to the human, plant and animal environment (Brauer 8).
The main factor that is usually considered when determining whether fires are detrimental or useful is the health of people exposed to fire. This is looked at in terms of wildland or prescribed fire because the different contexts have different amounts of smoke and fire exposure to the people affected.
Brauer notes that wildland fires are usually uncontrolled and severe. They are also characterised by high intensity and frequency whereas the prescribed fires are characterised by low intensity flames that produce less smoke and less damage to human and natural environments.
While fires are known to cause more harm and negative effects, human beings also have an influence to whether a fire will occur and how severe it will be. Fowler notes that people influence fire in terms of affecting fire severity, intensity, frequency and occurrence which are known as fire regimes.
These influences are in the form of disruptions such as changing migration or settlement patterns, changing technological, economical or political environments and changing natural environments as a result of global warming (Fowler 136).
Health Effects of Fire
The most common effect of fire to human beings is health related which is mostly in the form of deaths and injuries incurred as a result of the fire burning in a human inhabited population.
The threat of fires to the health of human beings can vary with the severity, intensity and frequency of the fire. The severity of the fire is how extensive the fire has burned in an area while fire intensity is how hot the fire is burning and the temperature in degrees of the fire. The frequency of the fire is how often the fire burns in a particular area over a period of time.
People such as fire-fighters who are constantly exposed to fire are more prone to develop health related complications such as respiratory or lung diseases when compared to people with a low exposure to fire. Other people who have a high exposure to fire according to Fowler (3) are people, who inhabit wild land areas, and regions that are known to experience extreme heat at high temperatures (Brauer 3).
Apart from bodily harm, Brauer notes that fire affects human beings property by causing damage especially if prevention and control procedures are not implemented. This loss of property might lead to psychological and emotional feelings on the people affected by the fire.
Physiological effects of fire on people can be viewed in terms of lung and heart conditions that result from over exposure to the fire and exposure to dangerous smoke fumes, premature deaths of the affected population, suppressed immunity that comes as a result of continually being exposed to fire regimes and the physical and mental/cognitive impairments that are caused by the fire (Brauer 4).
The emotional effects of fire are the reactions of the fire victims and the people exposed to the fire. The most common emotional reactions to fire are panic, fear and shock.
Panic occurs when people do not know what to do in a fire situation which sparks off feelings of fear and shock as well as hopelessness. These emotions are usually prevalent in situations where the general population has not received any disaster preparedness training or education (Brauer 4).
Economic and Environmental effects of Fire
Fire also affects the water resources that are necessary to sustain human life by changing the composition of water and the nutrients found in the water. It pollutes the water when the combusted materials and the natural ecosystem that has been exposed to severe fire comes into contact with water resources such as springs or rivers that are used by human beings.
Fowler notes that fire affects the soil nutrients of a particular area especially if it occurs frequently. The change in soil nutrient composition might affect how crops grow especially if the population depends on agriculture and food commodities for their sustenance and survival (Fowler 136).
The predominant view that is common with fire ecologists and researchers is that controlled or prescribed fires help in reducing the overall health costs that result from people getting treated for fire related illnesses.
Ecologists have proposed that prescribed burning is a useful technique that can be used to enhance the human population’s health especially in areas that experience recurring fires. As long as the fires are controlled and supervised, adverse effects on human, plant and animal life are minimised (Fowler 136).
The impact of fire on the economy according to Fowler depends on whether the fire is a wildland or prescribed fire. As noted earlier wildland fires are those that burn without any form of control or skilled prevention while the prescribed fires are those that burn under controlled circumstances and environments.
Both these types of fires have some forms of implication on the economies of particular places that experience constant fires. These economic impacts are felt by private or public landowners who mostly use their land for economic purposes such as growing agricultural produce for sale or natural habitats, animal parks and forests that earn the state some income revenue (Fowler 136)
Fire Control and Prevention Tactics
Fire control tactics are referred to as the strategies and activities that are used to determine what actions will be taken once a fire breaks out.
These actions are usually planned and outlined as guidelines that will be used for fire disaster preparedness activities. Omi and Huffman (302) note that tactics are measures that are required to control and manage a fire according to fire control strategies that have been incorporated by the government.
Clar and Chatten in their 1966 work (as cited by Omi and Huffman) note that the basic principle that is behind developing fire tactics is perimeter control which is the construction of fire lines that will be used as pathways for clearing the fire fuels.
The fire line is constructed on the fire perimeter or the edge of the fire which is usually a considerable distance from the actual fire. The main function of the fire line is surrounding the fire completely, preventing it from spreading to other areas (Omi and Huffman 302).
The main strategies behind fire control and prevention are direct, indirect and modified attacks. Direct attacks occur on the edge of the fire where personnel and equipment work close to the fire. The main aim of a direct attack is to stop the fire at the point of the flame from spreading to other unburned areas by suppressing the flames with water, fire suppressants or dry soil.
Chandler et al (cited by Omi and Huffman 302) note that this strategy is mostly useful for small fires that have a low intensity burn that can be suppressed. The indirect attack will involve constructing a fire line a considerable distance from the fire as well as removing fire fuels from the fire’s path.
This will ensure that the fire cannot spread and it will eventually die out on its own. Chandler et al note that this type of technique is useful for fires that are of a medium to high intensity. The modified attack or the confined attack is where strategies are designed to confine the fire to the area where it is burning.
This involves setting up of fire lines and positioning equipment such as hose pipes and chemicals to minimize the flames. Bulldozers are also used to bring in soil or dry dirt that will be used to reduce the intensive heat flames (Omi and Huffman 302).
In developing fire prevention strategies, knowledge about the fire triangle is necessary to be able to develop strategies that will prevent and control the occurrence of fire in a particular area. The fire triangle is made up of fire fuels, weather, terrain or landscape and fire. The diagrammatic representation is shown below:
The fire triangle is used to show the behaviour of fire by highlighting how the fire fuels, topography and weather affect the fire intensity, severity and frequency of the fire. Fuels are known to ignite the fire while weather in terms of temperature, winds, rain or humidity influence the behaviour of the fire with regards to whether the intensity is high, medium or low.
Topography deals with the slope or terrain of the land where sloppy areas and flat terrains increase the intensity of the fires (Omi and Huffman 140).
Once the fire triangle is studied, the appropriate prevention strategies can be designed to deal with any fire eventualities. Such strategies are incorporated into a fire prevention program that deals with fire control and preventive training where the general environment is analysed to determine whether there are any conditions that might fuel a fire.
Once these are identified, preventive strategies are put in place to ensure that a fire does not occur. Such strategies as highlighted by Diamantes (17) are referred to as housekeeping and maintenance practices where equipment used for fire control is maintained and repaired to ensure it is in a proper working condition.
Other housekeeping strategies involve training people on how to react to fires in the event they occur. Training is done on how to handle fire extinguishers, or hose pipes and also on how to use fire hydrants located near buildings.
Diamentes highlights other prevention strategies to be the use of smoke alarms to detect any indications of fires, creating fire exits in buildings and housing units, creating fire assembly points that will be used in case of a fire emergency and creating awareness of fire emergency procedures and guidelines to be followed during a fire (Diamentes 158).
Major prevention strategies that have been incorporated by most governments is the establishment of fire fighting units that are equipped with the necessary machinery and tools to deal with fire.
Fire authorities are charged with the role of extinguishing any fires that might occur in the area as well as protecting human lives and property from damage or injury. These authorities are charged with major evacuation procedures in the event a fire becomes uncontrollable and a risk to human beings (Diamentes 43).
Research Design, Methods and Strategy
Research design refers to the overall plan or guideline that will be used to collect and analyse research data. The most common research designs are qualitative and quantitative techniques where qualitative approaches incorporate the use of non-numerical approaches in data collection such as questionnaires, survey and interviews
While the quantitative approaches use the numerical approaches and statistics to analyse the data in the form of charts or graphs. The most appropriate research design method suitable for this particular type of research is the qualitative method because it searches for the meaning of the given situation or problem identified during the research.
It is also referred to as inductive research because the purpose is to find out what the general population knows about fire, its effects and how it can be prevented or controlled.
Qualitative data collection is done in the form of words instead of statistics or figures. For this research, information will be collected from the various research materials such as books that have information related to fire. The strategy of the research will focus on the unknown and known facts about fire as well as the prevention and control strategies.
Data Collection and Analysis
For the qualitative technique to take shape, research information has to be collected and analysed. This will involve taking a more open approach to conducting the data collection process by looking at the various literatures that have been written on fire, fire management, and fire control and prevention.
The information collected will be analysed according to what other authors and writers have written with regards to the research topic. Qualitative research is important and beneficial as it enables for the unearthing of information on the topic especially in areas that had not been covered before by other researchers before.
Qualitative research done on the effects of fire on the natural environment and how it affects people will be useful as the information can be used to develop preventive and control strategies as well as educational awareness on the impacts of fire and what can be done to prevent or control it in the event fire occurs. For the qualitative research to be successful, it should focus on areas that are mostly affected by fires, or experience fires constantly during particular periods of the year.
Information gathered from these regions can be applied to other areas that face medium or low exposures to fire. The data collection methods that are going to be used to gain the useful information will be secondary sources of information such as published works, journals, articles and books written on the research topic.
These sources of information will be analysed with regards. Data analysis techniques that will be incorporated for the qualitative research will be the use of descriptive statistics which are will be used to summarise data on the effects of fire, prevention and control strategies. The literature analysed focused on fire effects to human beings and their environment as well as preventive, control strategies.
Findings from the various literatures that were analysed (Omi and Huffman, Brauer, Fowler) showed that fire mostly had a negative effect on human beings and their natural environments especially in situations where it is uncontrolled. Such effects were viewed to be physical effects, physiological, emotional, economic and environmental effects.
The literature analysis has also shown that fires can be uncontrolled or controlled/ prescribed fires (Brauer) which determines the type of fire regime and fire behaviour that will occur. The research highlighted the various strategies that are used in controlling and preventing fires as highlighted by Omi and Huffman, and also Diamentes.
The focus on the paper was on fire, prevention and control. The paper highlighted that uncontrolled fire was detrimental to the environment in which it occurred in by causing damage to property, and houses, affecting the composition of soil and water nutrients.
The effects of fire were also analysed with regards to their impact on people’s emotions, health, physical and mental well being. Fire control and prevention strategies were also looked in to with the aim of uncovering viable solutions to fire.
Brauer, Michael. Health Impacts of biomass air pollution. Report on health impacts of Haze-related air pollution. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 2010. Web.
Diamantes, David. Principles of Fire prevention, New York: Thomson Delmar Learning. 2005. Print.
Fowler, Cynthia. Fire and People. Forest Encyclopedia. 2010.
Omi, Prunn and Huffman, Martin. Fire control history. Encyclopedia of Southern Fire Science. 2010.