Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fire haze

I live in Alabama, and here in the southeast fires are an important part of the ecology of this region. The longleaf pine savannahs depend on periodic fires to maintain balanced climax communities. Longleaf pines are adapted to be fire resistant, and the heat from fires aids their germination. Without these fires, the understory grows up and hardwoods can begin to move in and crowd out the longleafs. Fire suppression has been a major threat to these ecosystems, although now that the ecology is better understood prescribed burns are being conducted to simulate the natural processes.

So, fires can be good. Sometimes, though, natural and/or anthropogenic fires are big and uncontrolled enough to be a major concern, like the recent wildfires in southerneastern Georgia and northern Florida, which is what spurred me to make this post. The fires were started by lightening strikes last month, and this turned into disaster due to the drought conditions encompassing much of the region. The fires have destroyed 700 acres of swamp and timber land so far.

I got up this morning and it smelled like a fireplace in my house, because I'd left my kitchen window cracked and the huge hazy cloud that had covered my town was creeping in. When I was out walking my dog around 9:00 this morning, there was a big smoglike cloud over the city, it was very strange looking for a small, compact town to have an L.A.-like smog cloud hanging over it, especially considering we are hundreds of miles west of the fires. I read that the clouds are even stretching to Mississippi. due to a high pressure system from the east combined with strong southeastern winds. It had mostly cleared up by this afternoon/evening. I'm not a meteorologist, but it would be interesting to learn why the smog effect is most pronounced in the morning.

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