A New Thing To Worry About: Zombie Fires – Could It Happen in Wyoming?
I learned a long time ago that if anyone ever says to you, "Hey! wanna hear something weird?" you always say, "YES!"
The other day my wife said those magic words to me, and I excitedly answered in the affirmative. She went on to tell me about my new favorite thing to worry about, and my new favorite apocalypse scenario: Zombie Fires.
We're not talking about reanimated dead bodies that are on fire and walking around. While that would look pretty cool, the zombie fire I'm talking about is a real thing happing right now in North America. Well, right now meaning May 2021.
WHAT IS A ZOMBIE FIRE?
A zombie fire is a fire that seems to come back from the dead, well after a wildfire seems to have burned out. They happen in the Arctic climates of North America thanks to burning peat and methane underground. After the wildfire seems to be out, there could be a hidden fire, burning unseen until the next spring. Then they often spark another wildfire.
Peat is dead plants that collect on the ground and breaks down very slowly. This tends to happen in the cold, wet part of the north. Over time the ground becomes what is called peatland. Essentially, flammable ground. The soil is full of plant matter that can burn.
So, a wildfire burns the trees, the wildfire is put out, but on the floor of the forest, the ground is smoldering. Then the snow falls, trapping the fire underground where it continues to hibernate. Surviving on limited oxygen and slowly decaying plant matter. Not quite dead, a zombie fire.
Rebecca C Scholten from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam told the BBC, "With low oxygen levels under the snowpack, overwintering fires smolder slowly, only to flare up again when the snow melts and dry conditions arrive in the spring."
Wyoming and most of the lower 48 don't have millions of acres of peatland. Our dirt tends to be non-flammable. We just get to worry about the old-fashioned non-zombie fires here.
Many of Wyoming's peatlands were ancient, and we now know as the state's coal deposits. There are some peat beds near Swamp Lake near Cody, Wyoming, and the Sawtooth Peatbeds in Shoshone National Forest.
So unless I move to Alaska or Siberia, I can let go of my fear of the ground burning under me. Oh well....
4 Of Wyoming's Worst Wildfires
READ MORE: FLASHBACK - Laramie, WY Tornado June 6, 2018