Researchers say there are positive benefits to wildfires

Updated: Jun. 15, 2020 at 9:16 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It seems ironic that a fire, which burns plant life and endangers animals and people, could have some benefits.

Researchers at the University of Arizona said some fire is necessary to create habitats.

For example, small mammals and birds actually rely on standing dead trees to build their nests and rely on big logs on the ground for cover. Those are created by fire.

Meanwhile, low-intensity fires also help rejuvenate the soil in an ecosystem. They do this by clearing out litter and any dead or decaying plants building upon the ground. Getting rid of those allows both plants and animals to have better access to the soil for food.

In regards to the Bighorn fire, while it's been intense because of the conditions and where it's been burning, researchers said it's not necessarily burning intensely because of the type of fuels.

"If you think about a campfire, if you put a lot of grass on a campfire, it's not going to produce really big flames. If you start putting big pieces of wood on it, that's when you're going to get your bonfire," Molly Hunter, a research scientist, said.

Molly said even if fire kills off grasses and shrubs, they can usually resprout from the soil, sometimes even better than before.

It’s trees that have a harder time, especially with the lack of moisture in southern Arizona.

Researchers said how the fire burns also determine the effect it has on an ecosystem. If it’s burning at a low intensity, it can actually promote health. If it’s burning at a high intensity, that’s when we see negative long-term effects.

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