Planet

Zombie Fires Are The Underground Wildfires That Refuse To Die

April 3, 2021 By César Albarrán Torres

Nature provides us with its share of enigmas, and zombie fires are one of them. These natural occurrences are being exacerbated by climate change and represent yet one more threat to humanity and the planet. But what exactly is the zombie factor in zombie fires? 

No, not this kind of zombie!

To understand what zombie fires are we have to think sort of backwards. You know the terrible fires we have recently seen in California, Australia and the Amazon? Well, that is how we picture a fire, right? Upward flames, hell on Earth, scorching temperatures and natural habitats devastated.

Well, zombie fires are less spectacular but almost equally damaging: they burn inwards. Yes, you read that right. They are fueled by peat, a super fuel that is drying up due to climate change. Peat is basically “concentrated carbon from dry plants.” 

We are clearly not paying enough attention to zombie fires.

So this is what happens: firefighting squads put out a fire and think, rightfully so, that their job is done. But that is not the case. Even if it snows, peat can still burn underground and, provided it gets the oxygen it needs for combustion, the fire will spread inwards, into the soil.

This is a major problem for firefighters, as fires that were considered extinguished suddenly come back from the dead….or not really, as they were never truly put out.

And zombie fires pollute literally like hell!

Scientists estimate that zombie fires fueled by peat release 100 times the carbon compared to wildfires. This is a tremendous risk for both the environment and human health, as this carbon can be inhaled and cause respiratory distress. And some zombie fires can take months (yes, you heard that right) to be put out. Smoldering just goes on and on, particularly when the underground soil is rich in peat. 

The key seems to be to combine water with a wetting agent…this is a BIG breakthrough!

Duh, science! People that some would judge as “nerds” do really come to the rescue like in a good old Hollywood movie. A paper published in the International Journal of Wildland Fire argues that wetting additives can reduce the time to combat a zombie fire.

According to Gizmodo, the research team looked for environmentally friendly options so began “experimenting with different plant-based additives for water that would allow it to soak into the ground more uniformly.”

After recreating a zombie fire in the lab and trying out different options, the researchers hit the jackpot, they claim: a product called Cold Fire, manufactured by Fire Freeze and which is, according to the manufacturer, environmentally friendly.