Initial Publication Date: April 1, 2013

Megafires: Rare Events or the New Norm?

A Collection of Case Studies Exploring the 'Megafire' Phenomenon

Catastrophic 'mega-fires' are creating headlines throughout the world. These fire events are reported to be larger and more destructive than ever recorded before and media reports suggest they typify fires of the future. In a seminar held at Montana State University in 2013, students examined the science behind the outbreak of large and intense 'mega-fires' in the western US, Australia, Russia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Students will investigated what caused these fires, why they are showing up in headlines around the world and evaluated claims that these fires are unprecedented. Browse this set of case studies developed by students in the seminar to learn more about fire in the earth system and the phenomena of megafires

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This collection of case studies was developed by students in the ERTH 102 'Megafires: rare events or the new norm' course sponsored by the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University. This course was offered for non-geoscience majors and counted for a Core Curriculum credit in the Contemporary Issues in Science rubric. The goals of this course were to:

  • Learn about basic fire ecology and fire behavior
  • Understand the primary drivers of fire at different spatial and temporal scales
  • Research historical patterns of fire over the past several thousand years in different biomes of the world
  • Identify conditions in fuels and climate that lead to large fires in the earth system
  • Characterize the criteria used to define megafires by scientists, the media and the public
  • Empower students to ask their own questions, identify reliable sources of information, and to find answers
  • Develop skills to find, prioritize and utilize information; communication skills related to web-authoring; and critical thinking skills

Students selected topics of interest to their personal lives. They searched the scientific literature, the web and media for credible sources of information. They distilled this information and wrote the supporting text to develop these webpages. The following case studies are the results of their semester long projects.

How to use these case studies

The term 'megafires' is becoming more and more commonly used by media and scientific literature in describing large fires that have a significant impact on human environments. The phenomenon of large fires is not new but the impact and frequency of these fire events is increasing with a warming climate and land-use change in many settings worldwide. Much of the media coverage of megafires fails to provide a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of large fires, and, in many cases, perpetuates myths that are poorly supported by evidence. The case studies linked below provide a more in-depth examination of what causes large fires, how these events are changing over time, their impacts, and where megafires are becoming increasingly evident. Use the following links to explore myths and evidence-based understanding of the megafire phenomenon.

Browse the collection of case studies

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