Usually, giant forest fires are big news when they happen, but we seldom hear much about the carnage they leave behind, and how difficult it is to repair the damage.
You might recall that back in July, a huge compound wildfire triggered by multiple lightning strikes erupted in Washington state, plunging a million acres of forest into flame. The biggest portion of that fire, called the Carlton Complex, devastated an area several times the size of Seattle.
A month later, amazingly, the fire is still smoking, though it’s reportedly 96 percent under control by firefighters. Meanwhile, the astonishing amount of damage caused by the huge Carlton Complex fire is captured in the satellite photo above. The image depicts a burn scar that stretches for hundreds of square miles.
This local TV report shows a landscape that was once a lush forest, but now looks almost like a desert made of ash, nearly devoid of vegetation.
People who live in the region face an ongoing threat from erosion and flooding. According to the National Forest Service, a study of a massive 1970 forest fire in the Pacific Northwest showed that 34 years later, its lasting effects had doubled the amount of runoff from winter rain and snow melt in the spring.
While smaller fires are a natural part of forest regeneration, these big, intense forest fires, which can reach temperatures of 1,300 degrees F, consume and chemically alter the soil, removing massive amounts of nutrients. They also pump harmful pollutants into the atmosphere and imperil the wildlife who live in forests. Wildlife officials are still caring for a severely-burned black bear cub that was rescued from the fire.