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Home arrow Health arrow Best practices for environmental health : environmental pollution, protection, quality and sustainability
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Best Practices for Volcanoes

  • • Determine if you are in an area containing a volcano and if so determine how and when to evacuate your family and pets to a safer area if there is a volcanic eruption.
  • • Always have the car filled with gasoline when living in this type of area in preparation for a rapid evacuation.
  • • Obtain and utilize an air purifying respirator (N-95) if volcanic ash is present.
  • • Close all openings to the outside in homes and other structures and turn off all fans, heating, and air-conditioning systems.
  • • Seek shelter indoors away from bodies of water which may rise rapidly as a result of the volcanic eruption.
  • • Stay away from all volcanic ash unless properly protected with respirators and special clothing. (See endnote 27.)

Wildfires

Wildfires are triggered by lightning, people being careless in the use of fire, and arson. Most of the wildfires are caused by people, while some are due to lightning and occasionally lava flows. The wildfires spread quickly because of dry conditions and substantial fuel provided by brush, trees, and homes, which may be located in woodland settings, near forests, and in rural areas, mountainous areas, and gullies. Windy conditions exacerbate the problem. High temperatures and low humidity are contributing factors. The time of year is significant because the composition of the fuel and moisture level help determine the speed of the fire and how hot the fire gets. The chemical composition of the fuel and the amount of oils or resins present and the density of the material also help determine how fast the fire will spread.

There is a constant conflict between the desire to build new homes in high-risk areas and the danger of increasing the potential for wildfires. Houses and urban life have expanded rapidly into wildlands and have created a substantial potential for destruction by wildfires, not only because of the increase in potential fuel from the structures, but also because of a poor level of knowledge by individuals of their new environment. Wildfires may ignite one house or hundreds of houses depending on a variety of existing conditions including the weather. This concentration of homes also creates the necessity to use scarce budgetary sources for protection of the homes when the funds should be used for the prevention, mitigation, and control of the wildfires.

There has been and still is an ongoing discussion about the value of allowing small wildfires to burn out instead of trying to suppress them. Suppression not only requires additional funds but also may create the potential for larger and more dangerous wildfires in the future because small fires use up fuel and burn out naturally but if suppressed may leave much larger sources of fuel for wildfires in the future. There is also an effect on the ecosystem when small fires are suppressed. Although fires may be devastating, they can also be beneficial. They can destroy insect pests, exotic or non-native plants, remove undergrowth to encourage native plant growth, and add necessary nutrients from the ashes for native plants and trees. (See endnote 29.)

The ultimate wildfire or series of wildfires is the firestorm. A firestorm acts like a hurricane or tornado. The intense fire can create its own weather conditions with powerful winds and many tornadoes of spinning flames. It can have as much energy as a thunderstorm and as the hot air rises it sucks more oxygen and debris into the flames and intensifies the fire. The firestorm, which is an explosion of fire, can rapidly destroy large areas of structures and fields as well as kill many individuals through suffocation and burning.

The National Fire Danger Rating System is used by various resources to indicate the potential level of fire danger as follows:

  • Low (Green)—These fires are relatively easy to control.
  • Moderate (Blue)—These are wildfires with moderate problems.
  • High (Yellow)—These are wildfires which may be difficult to control especially if it is windy.
  • Very High (Orange)—These wildfires are very easy to start and spread rapidly.
  • Extreme (Red)—These wildfires start and spread very rapidly and may become extremely dangerous. (See endnote 28.)
 
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