Actually, it is a valid question that engineering students are already asking themselves.
I live in a part of Florida where prescribed burning is a way of life. Prescribed fire safely reduces excessive amounts of brush, shrubs, and trees. It encourages the new growth of native vegetation and maintains the many plant and animal species whose habitats depend on periodic fire. Many of Florida’s native plants are used to periods of fires, and they have adapted.
Florida gets a yearly average of almost 60 inches of rain. Yet, it often comes all at once in buckets, while we still have our droughts during other times of the year. Look at a map, follow our latitudinal line, and we are on line with the Sahara Desert. Thankfully, though, we have the Gulf Stream; and our afternoon thunderstorms are a blessing from the heat. Problem is, though, they can also ignite a wildfire–a very natural occurrence in Florida.
Florida is home to over 16.7 million acres of forests. 11.7 million acres are private land, and 5 million acres are publicly owned by our local, state, and federal governments. Most of the forests are in north and central Florida. With our droughts, thunderstorms and vast woodlands, we are a state at risk when it comes to wildfires.
My family, who has been in Florida for eight generations, have had several experiences with wildfires. My great-great grandparents William and Lavinia Hamrick lost their home to a wildfire near a little town called Aucilla, Florida; and my grandparents Tom and Lucy Roe lost theirs to another wildfire somewhere around Lamont, Florida, in the mid 1920s. William and Lavinia were farmers, but Tom and Lucy were in the forest industry and lived near a sawmill in the woods.
A fire can be good or bad. The bad occurs when the woods become overgrown with fuel. If a natural fire does not happen soon enough, the understory made up of brush and shrubs become overgrown and fuel a raging fire at some later date. All it takes is one good lightning strike during a thunderstorm, and all of a sudden the raging fire is pushed along by the winds burning miles and miles of woods and anything else in its path.
When my ancestors moved to Florida in the late 1820s, the Native Americans here were farmers and already used controlled burns to keep the woods from burning them out. It didn’t take the new settlers long to learn how to use and control fire. Today, our Florida Forest Service in the Florida Department of Agriculture works with land managers and owners to help them do controlled burns for the same reason.
A timely fire can burn through a forest and not only burn the understory but also thin out unhealthy trees. The new tender growth that returns is higher in nutrients for the wildlife who live there.
A raging wildfire though is different. Healthy trees are killed while shrubs that provide food and cover for wildfire become ashes. Even some soil nutrients are vaporized in the intense heat, and it becomes airborne in clouds of choking smoke. The woods become grossly changed.
Yet, all across Florida, land managers struggle with whether to burn or chemically treat their forests. Some turn to chemical treatments because the risk of a multi-car pile up on the interstate or the risk of burning out their neighbors is too great. Yet, the risk of not burning is even greater.
If this new research works to the scale of a wildfire, imagine the possibilities! Could we actually fight a wildfire with sound?
Here is an article about the possibility of this new technology. Engineering Students Extinguish Fire with Sound