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Chapter 11: Wildfires

INTRODUCTION
Wildfires are a natural phenomenon that have occurred for many millions of years.
While they have many ecosystem benefits, they also pose a threat to human
habitation that is increasingly moving into the urban-wildland interface. Human
changes to landscapes, including wildfire suppression, have reduced the natural fire
cycle and increased the probability of large, hot, and damaging fires that can reduce
ecosystem functioning for many years. In this chapter we will explore what controls
wildfire spread, how humans can mitigate and prepare for wildfires, and the human
and ecosystem impacts of wildfires.
LEARNING OUTCOMES
The goals and objectives of this chapter are to:

Describe the causes of wildfire ignition and spread.

Explain the positive and negative impacts of wildfires.

Describe how mitigation can reduce wildfire risk.

Explore the role of wildland firefighters in fire management.

Introduction to Wildfires

TYPES
OF
WILDFI
RES
The
three
main
types
of
wildfire
s, as
describ
ed by
the Na
tional
Park
Servic
e are:
Groun
d
fires
which
burn
organi
c
matter
in the
soil
beneat
h
surfac
e litter
and
are
sustain
ed by
glowin
g
combu
stion.
Surfa
ce
fires
which
spread
with a
flamin

g front
and
burn
leaf
litter,
fallen
branch
es and
other
fuels
locate
d at
ground
level.
Crown
fires
which
burn
throug
h the
top
layer
of
foliage
on a
tree,
known
as the
canopy
or
crown
fires.
Crown
fires,
the
most
intens
e type
of fire
and
often
the
most
difficul
t to
contai
n,

need
strong
winds,
steep
slopes
and a
heavy
fuel
load to
contin
ue
burnin
g.
ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS
Read pages 1-3 in the USDA report below about the basic impacts of wildfires and
the ecological effects:

The Fire Environment

FIRE TRIANGLE
The fire triangle contains the three key ingredients for fire
ignition and spread:

Fuel

Oxygen

Heat

The combination of these three factors contributes to fire


behavior and is related to the environment of the fire. Fuel
provides the energy source, oxygen is required for the
combustion process, and heat often provides the trigger for
the fire. Fire will occur when these three factors combine.

For wildfires, this triangle is sometimes modified to include the specific factors
important for fires in wilderness lands namely:

Fuel

Topography

Weather

The fuels in wildfires includes trees, shrubs, and grasses, but also can be dead
organic material littering the floor of the wild area. Both living and dead organic
material can burn. A key feature of fuels in fuel moisture, which is the amount of
water in living or dead fuels. This will be a factor of the type of vegetation, whether
it is living or dead, the time of year, and the preceding weather and climate
conditions. Fuel type can also impact spread, as some vegetation types, such as
junipers and pines, are particularly flammable. Finally vegetation density, will
impact the rate and ability of spread of the wildfire.
Topography, while easy to analyze with topographic maps, is a challenging factor for
wildfire spread. First, fire, being hot, tend to move upward, and therefore will move
up slopes at a much faster speed than down slopes. Additionally, the steepness and
aspect of slopes will determine the type and spacing of vegetation growing.
Wildfires burning in very complex topography are challenging to forecast and pose a
particular danger.

FIRE WEATHER
Weather is critical in forecasting
wildfire will start, as well as the b
has started. The key weather var
are:

Temperature

Relative Humidity

Wind Speed

Wind Direction

Cloud Cover

Rainfall

Chance of Lightning

Meteorologists and firefighting personnel can assess these conditions in the field
using existing surface weather stations, with temporary weather stations, and with
handheld weather stations. Forecasts of these conditions are created by local offices
of the National Weather Service and communicated to firefighters and emergency

managers in the field. On large fires, and Incident Meteorologist from the National
Weather Service is assigned and sent to the fire location to provide detailed and up
to date weather information to personnel in real time.
However, in many cases the fire itself can create different weather conditions.
Additionally, the topography around the fire can create weather. These, changes in
conditions happen on very small scales and are not able to be forecast by
meteorologists. Therefore, it is important for wildland firefighters to have a basic
understanding of fire weather, so they can assess changing situations in the field
and modify their activities to stay safe.

Impacts of Wildfires
WILDFIRE THREATS
Read the USGS report below to explore the threat of wildfires in the United States:

Fighting Wildfires
MITIGATING THE THREAT
Wildfire mitigation has three main components:

Thinning fuels or prescribing small fires to reduce wildfire intensity and decrease the likeli
crown fires. This activity tries to restore forests and landscapes to a healthier state, and re
natural fire cycle.

Creating fire breaks (roads or other non-vegetated areas) to reduce fire spread, and aid in
fighting activities.

Creating defensible space around homes in the urban-wildland interface.

WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS
Fighting wildfires is a dangerous
job, which requires extensive trai
three main facets.

10 Standard Firefighting Orders


Fire Behavior
1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and
forecasts.
2. Know what your fire is doing at all times.
3. Base all actions on current and expected
behavior of the fire.
Fireline Safety
4. Identify escape routes and safety zones and
make them known.
5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger.
6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act
decisively.
Organizational Control
7. Maintain prompt communications with your
forces, your supervisor and adjoining forces.
8. Give clear instructions and be sure they are
understood.
9. Maintain control of your forces at all times.
If 1-9 are considered, then...
10. Fight fire agressively, having provided for
safety first.

Fitness training to ensure fi


physical challenges of the

Fire fighting training to lea


and techniques to use at d
different situations.

Safety training in order to


the many hazards of wildfi
the risk associated with th

Eighteen Watch Out Situations


1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.

3. Safety zones and escape routes not id

4. Unfamiliar with weather and local fac


behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and

6. Instructions and assignments not clea

7. No communication link with crew mem

8. Constructing line without safe anchor

9. Building fireline downhill with fire belo


10.Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11.Unburned fuel between you and fire.

12.Cannot see main fire; not in contact w

13.On a hillside where rolling material ca


14.Weather becoming hotter and drier.

15.Wind increases and/or changes direct

16.Getting frequent spot fires across line

17.Terrain and fuels make escape to safe


18.Taking a nap near fireline.

Case Studies

YARNELL HILL FIRE


A lightning storm ignited a wildfire on June 28, 2013 in a desert area northwest of Phoenix, AZ. A
fire grew nearby towns were evacuated and the Granite Mountain Hot Shots crew arrived to aid
suppression and protection of the nearby towns. On June 30, 2013, while retreating toward the t
Yarnell, 19 of the firefighters were overtaken by the flame front. They deployed their fire shelters
19 succumbed to the heat and flames. The accident was partly caused by outflow winds from a
thunderstorm to the northwest, which increased fire movement dramatically and created dange
conditions.
More detailed information and accounts from this tragedy can be explored HERE.

This image really stuck out for me because I used to be a pilot and this kind of flying
in a jet of that size is absolutely amazing. They are dropping flame retardant to halt
the fire when it gets to that point. This was actually at a fire location in Utah. They
use many different methods to fight wildfire. This actually doesnt really include
water. They mostly just clear out any flammable material in a the path of the
wildfire and put flame retardant down.

This image really illustrates the terrifying and apocalyptic feel to wildfires. Growing
up in California and now living in Utah I have definitely experienced the dread that
comes along with seeing something like this.
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/drought-adds-fuel-to-troubling-wildfire-season-incalifornia/
For some reason the video would not embed in the paper, but it talks about the
outlook for the fire seasons and it is scary. The drought in California right now is one
of the worst they have ever experienced, and with drought comes huge and
frequent wildfires. I expect there will be a massive amount of fires that will destroy
half of the state.
wildfire
What once so green, withered brown
Rays of invisible yellow sparked orange and gray
Bright red flooded the land

The time of black has begun.


Black, black, black.
But black was not all bad
It fertilized the soil.
For not so long, black turned green
Turned blue
Turned yellow
Turned red
Turn into colors you have yet to see.

I have said this before, but I love ending with poetry because it brings a whole
different meaning to a situation. This one also brings to light some stuff that we
studied and how wildfires can be a benefit to nature. I think I definitely agree that
they are a part of the natural cycle of the earth. What I think is bas though is that
we are using up all of the water in the mountains making the fires more prevalent
and dangerous.