Blazes That Refuse to Die: ‘Zombie Fires’

The Bogus Creek Fire in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a state where the vast majority of carbon emissions from fires come from burning soil.Credit...Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry, via Associated Press

With a changing climate, fires in far northern forests that smolder throughout winter and erupt again in spring could become more common, a new study suggests.

By / John Schwartz

Zombie forest fires are on the rise.

According to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, fires in far northern forests that smolder throughout the wet, cold winters and pop up again in the spring could become more common because of climate change. That presents challenges — but also opportunities — for fire management, and for minimizing the release of greenhouse gases, the researchers say.

Most of us think of forest fires as being contained within a single year. And for the most part, they are. But in the Arctic-boreal forests of Alaska, Siberia, Canada’s Northwest Territories and similar landscapes, fires can burn deep into the carbon-rich soil where they linger and lurk, often undetected.

“When you think about a forest fire, most people think about trees burning,” said Sander Veraverbeke, a researcher at VU Amsterdam and an author of the paper.