The Different Wildfire Suppression Tactics

Amanda Delatorre |

The Different Wildfire Suppression Tactics

Every fire behaves differently. As a result, firefighters can’t implement one simple tactic to manage and extinguish all fire situations. Instead, they must learn a wide range of fire suppression tactics that will suit the many different scenarios that they may encounter while out on the field. From a basic control line to hot spotting, here are some of the different wild suppression tactics that wildland firefighters must know and implement.

Creating a Control or Fire Line

A crucial component of wildfire suppression is the creation of control and fire lines. A control line refers to either a natural or manmade fire barrier. For example, a natural control line could be a river, stream, or rocky ridge that doesn’t have much fuel. A manmade control line, on the other hand, may consist of an extended stretch of land that firefighters have cleared out to reduce potential fuels.

When employed, such a barrier can greatly help wildland firefighters contain a fire by controlling how and where it spreads. When a portion or strip of a control line has been completely cleared out to eliminate all flammable materials by scraping or digging down into the mineral soil, that portion is known as a fire line. While a fire line can greatly help control a fire by cutting off the supply of fuels, fires can sometimes jump the barrier. As such, they do not serve as a full-proof way to completely contain a blaze.

Burn Out

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes you can fight fire with fire. Also known as a prescribed burn, a burnout is a type of indirect wildfire suppression method that can help strengthen a control line. This tactic involves setting small fires to burn brush and other fuel inside of a control line. Doing so will help eliminate any fuel that firefighters couldn’t get rid of by simply pulling up plants or digging a small ditch. As a result, a fuel-free barrier that will better prevent a wildfire from spreading outside of a control line is formed.


Like a burn out, a backburn is a type of controlled fire that is set as a form of indirect fire suppression. However, the process of initiating a successful backburn requires a bit more skill and technique. Typically, firefighters establish control lines downwind of the main fire on the inside of the fire control line. Upon doing so, the firefighters push the prescribed burn in the direction of the main fire. The goal of this tactic is to burn all of the fuel between the main fire and the control line to prevent the main fire from advancing forward.

Hot Spotting

Hot spotting is the process of targeting fire suppression efforts at particularly active points in a fire. Hot spotting generally occurs as the first step in prompt fire control, as it prioritizes reducing or stopping the spread of fire in areas where the blaze poses a special threat or is spreading at a particularly rapid rate. In addition to prioritizing critical areas, firefighters tasked with hot spotting may also partake in the task of smoothing embers and spot fires that form from the hottest point in the main fire.


Flanking refers to a fire suppression technique that involves an assault on a blaze from behind. Firefighters generally implement this tactic on small wildfires that they can potentially extinguish through direct attack measures. Upon starting their attack on earth that has already been scorched, wildland firefighters generally spray the flames along the edge of the fire. Over time, they make their way along the entire perimeter of the main fire to control or completely extinguish the blaze.


Another one of the many different wildland suppression tactics is the flanking-fire technique. This complex tactic involves treating an area with prescribed lines of fire that skilled wildland firefighters set directly into the wind. The goal of this procedure is that the lines will spread at right angles to the wind to secure the flanks of a progressing strip-heading or backing fire. Firefighters may also implement a flanking fire to supplement a backing fire located in an area with light fuel. Because this method of fire suppression does not leave room for much variation in wind direction, it requires a crew of experts as well as exceptional coordination and timing to carry out successfully.

Aerial Attack

An aerial attack refers to a type of direct attack on a fire that involves the application of aerial resources to combat a fire from above. Firefighters can implement this method of fire suppression in the case that exposed water sources are located in an area relatively close to the main fire. In such a case, helicopters and planes can transport water from the source and drop it onto the fire. Often, the firefighters will mix the water with a foam retardant to enhance its fire suppression capabilities before dropping it. 

Cold Trailing

Cold trailing requires firefighters to locate any areas where a fire continues to burn. To do so, firefighters will follow in the wake of a moving fire that is being attacked from the front or side. As they traverse ground that has already been scorched, and carefully inspect the ground to determine if any glowing embers or hot coals remain. By locating and eliminating any lingering heat sources, firefighters can prevent embers from blowing into other areas and starting the fire up again.

Mopping Up

After firefighters securely contain a fire within a fire line, the process of fire suppression doesn’t end. One of the final stages of fire depression is known as mopping up. This process involves cleaning up any lingering fires that remain along a completed control line. During a mop-up, firefighters will extinguish any embers or spot fires around fire lines. To ensure that no lingering fires remain, ground crews will also turn over every stump and log throughout the burned area. This process is essential for preventing wind from spreading and reigniting a fire. For this reason, a wildfire isn’t considered completely extinguished until a thorough mop-up has been completed.

In order to safely and effectively implement these strategies, firefighters will require high-quality gear and equipment. For this reason, The Supply Cache is committed to providing industry-leading wildland firefighter backpacks, hand tools, personal protective equipment, hoses, tanks, and more supplies for the brave firefighters who protect us. To learn more about our innovative solutions for wildland firefighters, contact us today.

The Different Wildfire Suppression Tactics