Fires: much more than smoke and ash

Federico Kopta, Biólogo
Foro Ambiental Córdoba – Asociación Civil

In addition to destroying vegetation and wildlife, and polluting the air, bush and grass fires accelerate soil erosion, promote flooding, decrease infiltration that feeds the slopes, and promote the siltation and eutrophication of lakes

This is the fire season in Cordoba and central Argentina, including the Delta, due to the absence of rain, low humidity, strong winds, and occasionally high temperatures in late winter and early spring. In addition to this, frost-dried vegetation is a very combustible element.

In addition to the natural conditions, the man also starts fires accidentally or intentionally, such as when they occur to change the use of the land to plant crops or real estate, to obtain regrowth for livestock, to remove herbaceous vegetation next to banks or wastelands, to burn garbage, or simply to do damage, among many other reasons.


Fires in Rosario – Argentina. Courtesy Ignacio Moreno

Forest fires are particularly pernicious in the mountainous area where rivers originate because, by drastically affecting the plant cover, they leave the soil unprotected from erosive agents, especially rainwater.

Vegetation has three functions in the regulation of water and soil in the mountainous area or headwaters, as it acts as

  •         An umbrella with its leaves, preventing the drops of rainwater from impacting the soil with energy, disintegrating it.
  •         A sponge made up of foliage and leaf litter, retaining water and allowing it to infiltrate the soil and groundwater layers.
  •         A net made of roots and leaf litter, mechanically supporting the soil from the water’s dragging.

The loss of vegetation cover by the action of the fire has consequences:

  •   Water erosion of the soil.
  • Loss of organic matter from the soil, which, although it receives the contribution of ashes, quickly loses them through erosion
  • Flooding, because water runs violently down the surface without being retained by vegetation.
  • Contamination of watercourses with mud and ashes.
  • Clogging (or filling with sediment) of lakes, with the soil dragged from the mountains.
  • Eutrophication of lakes, as algae have more nutrients to multiply and in turn pollute the water.
  • The drought of the slopes in winter and spring, due to lack of water infiltration into the soil and underground layers during the rainy season.
  •  Destruction of wildlife habitat.

Fires – Sierras de Córdoba – Argentina

It is therefore essential to prevent forest and grassland fires, bearing in mind that 99% of them are caused by human beings. One of the fundamental strategies is to support education on the subject from the educational centers, to reduce the number of fire spots produced. But on the other hand, an early warning system is needed, consisting of watchmen, who in the face of a column of smoke alert an initial combat team or first attack, so that they can extinguish the fire before it spreads and causes a fire of magnitude. Another fundamental factor is an investigation so that those who cause the fires are brought to justice, and that deters them from being set.

Federico Kopta
Federico Kopta
Biologist | + posts

Federico Kopta, Biologist and Secretary of Foro Ambiental Córdoba, a Civil Association that seeks to influence public environmental policies in a comprehensive way, from the citizenry, through the generation of reports and technical recommendations and collaborative work with the media.