As a wildland firefighter, battling large, untamable flames is par for the course. To ensure you are properly prepared for such a dangerous task, it is important to recognize that not all wildfires are the same. There are essentially three main types of wildfires that can occur: ground fires, surface fires, and crown fires. Depending on the conditions of the fire event, one or multiple types of fires can occur at a time. To learn more about each of these different types of wildland fires, continue reading.
A ground fire is a type of wildfire that occurs in the subsurface where fuels such as peat, coal, tree roots, and other buried organic matter ignite and burn under the ground. Depending on the conditions of the fire, ground fires may eventually burn through the surface of the ground and become surface fires.
Because ground fires exist below the surface of the ground, they are typically more challenging to contain than surface fires. That said, these subterranean fires spread more slowly than surface fires and may burn over the course of several months.
A surface fire refers to a fire that ranges from low to high intensity depending on the conditions. Aptly named, such fires burn on the surface of the ground and are primarily fueled by low-lying vegetation such as twigs or dried leaves. These fires develop from ground fires that grew enough to breach the surface. While they may scorch a tree canopy, they will not cause it to burn enough to carry a fire.
Surface fires often spread slowly, but can begin to spread rapidly when they occur in an area that has a steeply sloped landscape or are pushed by wind. That said, most surface fires ultimately die out before they are able to develop into the next level of classification: crown fires.
Another different type of wildland fire is a crown fire. These fires burn and spread from treetop to treetop—also known as the crown or canopy of trees. Unlike ground or surface fires, which spread more slowly, crown fires spread at a rapid pace. As such, crown fires generally advance well ahead of a lower-level fire.
The rapid pace of crown fires is largely due to their height, which exposes them to wind. Such wind pushes the flames and sparks from the fire into a potentially interconnected or continuous tree canopy. Due to the quick speed at which crown fires can spread, they often turn into extremely intense fires.
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