6 Techniques Firefighters Use To Control Wildfires

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6 Techniques Firefighters Use To Control Wildfires

Wildland firefighters have their work cut out for them as the climate continues to change and the weather continues to grow drier. Wildland firefighters don’t always have things like paved roads, city-wide fire hydrant systems, and similar urban conveniences to work with when confronting a major blaze in the wilderness or any nearby natural area. Quite often, they rely more on their skill and training than they do on technology or pre-built systems to control and extinguish a major conflagration. Here are six techniques firefighters use to control wildfires.

What Makes a Wildfire Wild?

A wildfire refers to a fire that takes place in wooded or brush areas, outside of an urban or village environment. At the same time, and as a matter of speaking, the term can refer to the wild and chaotic nature of a forest or prairie blaze. However, wildfires, like anything in nature, are often anything but random.

They’re subject to scientific laws dictating how quickly they consume ignitable matter, their paths and patterns, and especially the way they start. Sometimes it’s a matter of random happenstance, such as a lightning strike or spontaneous combustion of organic matter allowed to sit, dry out, and eventually heat up and catch fire.

More often, human carelessness is responsible. All that said, wildland firefighters take the time to get to know their “enemy,” and understand how to prevent, curtail, and extinguish wildfires through a variety of techniques.

Firelines and Fuel Breaks

The best way to stop a fire, any fire, is through the removal or disruption of the three things that start or sustain one. Namely, heat, fuel, and oxygen. A fire can’t burn without them. Firelines and fuel breaks are two techniques that can put a crimp in a fire’s “plans.” Both techniques create gaps and other barriers that slow down a fire and prevent it from spreading to other areas. Here’s how they work:

  • A fireline consists of digging trenches all the way down to the most mineral-rich portion of the soil. The goal is to remove every bit of burnable organic material. The trench’s size depends on the land and the extent of the fire. Bigger fires need bigger trenches. Firefighters can dig trenches with tools or heavy-duty digging equipment such as backhoes and bulldozers. The more remote the area, the more likely firefighters will require hand tools like picks, shovels, hoes, and similar equipment. They must dig the trenches quickly and in advance of an oncoming blaze.
  • Fuel breaks require less digging and more clearing of vegetation that can feed the fire. Like firelines, fuel breaks are extended areas in the path of a blaze firefighters clear using chainsaws, hand tools, heavy equipment, and more. Unlike firelines, firefighters create fuel breaks in advance, or more accurately, in anticipation of a fire. Populated areas and places where they must guard infrastructure often have a perimeter of cleared areas surrounding them, making it (hopefully) impossible for a wildfire to reach them.

Backburning and Controlled Burns

“Fight fire with fire,” as the saying goes. Using backburns and controlled burns makes that statement literal. Wildland firefighters set fires in a prescribed way to prevent the spread of the main fire. Here are the specifics:

  • Wildland firefighters set smaller fires to burnable vegetation in front of a freshly dug fireline as the big fire approaches. Creating these backburns can be tricky and requires great precision and planning to avoid allowing the fire to spread further but they are effective if firefighters do them correctly.
  • Like backburning, controlled burns are fires that firefighters intentionally set before a fire can occur. Controlled burns happen when firefighters can better harness the fire. Controlled burns allow wildland firefighters to eliminate vegetation that might dry out and catch easily during drier weather or during droughts when they perform this technique on cooler and wetter days. Ecologically speaking, sometimes fires can help certain ecosystems start over and regenerate the soil’s quality, ensuring healthier plant and animal life.

Firefighting by Air

Wildland firefighters, like their town and city counterparts, employ various vehicles to fight fires. As mentioned, some areas afflicted by wildfires are unreachable by pumper trucks and similar vehicles due to rugged terrain. They often take these fights to the air. Wildland firefighters employ various aircraft to drop water, flame retardant material, or foam onto a spreading blaze. Air tankers carry enormous amounts of water or other fire-quenching materials to a hot spot and drop the load, putting out or containing the fire, allowing crews to make their way to the main fire. Helicopters also do their part. Wildland firefighters can equip them with scoops, buckets, and similar equipment to gather water from a nearby water source and transport it to the flames. Drones are a newer, 21st-century development, flying overhead and allowing firefighters to assess the situation and instruct ground crews.

Special Firefighting Forces

Every wildland firefighter does their part. Ground crews face off against fires and put them out with the above methods, foldable water tanks, and other equipment and techniques. Others go to greater extremes, particularly when the fire is happening in a less-than-accessible area. Hotshot crews receive special training and often hike to fires in the farthest reaches of the wild, where they may spend days or even weeks battling the blaze. Similarly, smoke jumpers fly into wherever a distant fire is happening, parachuting near the blaze to create firelines and hold the line until more equipment and personnel can reach them.

Those are just six techniques firefighters use to control wildfires, but they don’t stop there. Wildland firefighters and the government agencies they work for continue to monitor the areas under their purview. Weather, drought conditions, and periodic assessments of the land by scientists, naturalists, biologists, and other experts ensure our natural resources are allowed to grow and thrive.

Contact us for a consultation if you have further questions about the equipment and techniques wildland firefighters use. We’ve offered our supplies and advice for many years now as experts in the field. We look forward to hearing from you!

6 Techniques Firefighters Use To Control Wildfires