Forest Fires (Natural Disasters), by Laura Purdie Salas
Forest fires are a fact of life in some areas. Over the course of my life I have been around areas where forest fires were common, to the extent where certain sights and smells have clued me in that forest fires are near, although I must admit that as I write this I have never been in an area where fires have had the sort of oppressive impact on the air that they are having at present, even if forest fires are by no means an unusual aspect of my existence as someone who has long lived close to trees and in places where drought has made such areas tinderboxes. How is that people learn about forest fires, though? As one might expect, there is a sizable amount of works that are written about forest fires for young readers, and this book is one of them, a book that attempts to explain forest fires at least in some detail to young readers who want to be aware of such things and do not have the sort of direct personal experience that would make a book like this redundant and unnecessary. One suspect that many of these books exist for the purpose of science education.
This book is a short one at about 50 pages or so and it is divided into five short chapters. The book begins with a discussion of forest fires, including what types of forest fires exist, largely based on their heat and flame profile (1). The author then discusses why fires happen, which includes a lot of explanation as to the ways in which people can cause fires and some rather unreliable statistics about the proportion of fires that are caused by people as opposed to natural causes (2). The author then talks about the power of a forest fire, which is quite a dramatic thing, as fires can get so hot that trees burn even without the fire touching them directly because they are heated to such an extent by the blaze from a distance (3), all of which creates considerable danger. The author gives some details about famous forest fires, some of which have had very large results, a matter which would likely have to be updated based on contemporary fires of unusual size (4). After that there is a chapter on surviving a forest fire which gives tips as to how one can endure such dangerous circumstances as many have found themselves in at present (5), after which the book ends with words to know, suggestions for further reading, useful addresses and internet sites, and an index.
One of the aspects about this book that is more than a bit puzzling is the fact that it seems to be passing on some lamentably bad information. According to this book, for example (and others), some 80-90% of all forest fires are caused by people. But when one stops to look at the causes of fires when it is known, one finds that quite frequently the causes of fires are unknown if they are not caused by lightning, which means that there is likely some tendency among writers who deal with fire to assume that human beings are the cause for fires rather than doing their due diligence on such matters. It certainly makes for a dramatic account to think that human beings are largely responsible for fires developing, but if that is not in fact so, or if human involvement is rather indirect, it is better for the purposes of encouraging people to manage such matters better for there to be a lot more honesty about what is known and unknown and about what is meant by the cause of fires. The author’s interest in natural cycles of creation is at least interesting, though, so there is much to enjoy here even if the statistics are a bit dodgy.