Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Trees are on Fire and she's fixing her hair: Tampines Wildfire.

Nicolette has been complaining about an odd burning smell she constantly wakes up to at Sembawang; and being the awful friend that I am, I told her its because Sembawang is too ulu (not that I'm in any position to say that because I happen to live in Jurong). Unfortunately, our friend and fellow Geography major, Li Shean proved my hypothesis wrong and informed us of the wildfire that has been taking place right below her block at Tampines St 72. As a student of Natural Hazards GE3231, she took pictures of the wildfire:

This is apparently not the first case of wildfire this year in Tampines. In fact, island-wide wildfire outbreaks this year has already hit record highs of 182 cases in January and 110 cases in the first sixteen days of February. I'm really quite bumped that I didn't witness any of these fires. 

Anyway, let us understand a little bit more about this wildfire phenomenon.

Wildfires, also known commonly as Brushfires in North America and Forest Fires in Europe, is essentially a natural phenomenon. No continent, save for Antarctica, is free from this natural event. The point I am trying to make here is that, it is not a hazard but a naturally-occurring event. It only becomes hazardous when lives are disrupted and properties are damaged. In fact, small Bushfires are positive events as they can actually add nutrients to soils. However, massive fires, such as the ones in Tampines have negative consequences on the environment, which we will discuss later. 

Another view of the Tampines St. 72 wildfire via stomp:

We are quite lucky, this is a  Ground fire or Surface Fire, which isn't too difficult to control. I mean, compare this with Crown Fires which are common wildfire types in South-East Australia and the Mid-West of USA:

So, how do Wildfires come about? Firstly, climatic factors play a significant role in wildfire development. The abnormally high temperatures and low rainfall in January and February this year has contributed to the development. From the figure below, Singapore lies in the Tropical Rainforest zone that is not usually wildfire prone. However, as it is confirmed that 2010 is an El-Nino year, this dry spell is here to stay, so peel your eyes for more wildfires this year! 

Wildfires, however, do not appear out of thin air - an ignition source is needed. They take the form of:
- Lightning strikes: contributes directly to 15% of the wildfires around the world, and Singapore has one of the highest rates lightning activity in the world.  

- Human activities: clearing of land (think: Indonesia wildfires), arson (e.g. vandals) and most importantly littering - of flammable materials and cigarette butts. So next time before you flick that butt into a bush, remember the possible consequence! 

So, other than the degradation of air quality - Nicolette's odd burning smell - which can bring about respiratory problems and discomfort to many; there are also other environmental problems associated with wildfires. Firstly, large fires destroys vegetation, organic materials and soils directly. The destruction of soils results in infertile lands, preventing future vegetation growth. According the Li Shean, the whole 'forested' area of Tampines St 72 is cleared. Also, soil degradation and the lack of vegetation will eventually result in increasing soil erosion, futher degrading the land. In extreme cases, this may happen:

All in all, Wildfires, especially in cities with sporadic vegetated lands like Singapore are often caused by human carelessness coupled with the correct climatic conditions (hot and dry). Thus, in light of the dry condition that is here to stay for a while, it is perhaps prudent for us to not ignite any wildfires by inconsiderate acts like littering and vandalism (in the form of arson)! I'm sure we are not the only ones annoyed at the horrible air quality!   


Special thanks to Miss Ng Li Shean for sharing her pictures with me : D

and oh, on a completely un-related note, we took Hobo down today from Sungei Kadut Industrial park. I'm proud to say it is the dirtiest sensor in the class. I'll upload the pictures from my phone when I figure out how to. Stay tuned for Singapore's Urban Heat island analysis (: