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A forest fire is an uncontrolled fire occurring in nature.

Sometimes, the forest fire is so large


that it takes a long time for the fire fighting crews to gain control over the situation. This
could result in massive destruction. (meaning)

Many forest fires are due to human activity


The number of forest fires varies from year to year, and quite a long time may elapse
between forest fires that are considered to be large. Climatic conditions are the factor that
has greatest impact on the extent of forest fires. The forest is most vulnerable in spring and
summer seasons when there are long dry spells. Weather conditions such as precipitation
and wind, as well as the layout of the terrain, are important factors in determining the size
of the forest fire.

It is estimated that as many as nine out of ten forest fires are caused by humans, although
the causes of a significant number of forest fires remain unknown. The most common cause
of such fires is the use of open flames and disposable barbecue grills. Even a cigarette that is
not properly extinguished can cause a forest fire. Some forest fires also start as a
consequence of downed power lines, sparks from trains, sparks from edge trimmers along
roadways or sparks from tools and forestry machinery doing work in the forest. Natural
forest fires are due to lightning strikes.

In some cases, fires are set deliberately. The June 2008 forest fire in Froland in Aust Agder
county is the largest and most serious recent example. This fire burned for 13 days and large
crews from the fire service, the civil defence and the Armed Forces participated in the
extinguishing efforts. At most, 15 helicopters were in the air to put out the fire. 77 residents
in the community of Mykland had to be evacuated from their homes for a period of time.
The fire affected an area of 27 000 decares, of which 19 000 decares were productive
forests.

What are the effects of wildfires?

Econmic cost:
If you have ever seen firefighters battling a wildfire and the images they show on TV, it will
give you an idea of the immediate damage it can do to wildlife and vegetation. Fires also
destroy houses and almost anything in its way. Additionally, the city spends millions of
money to fight them with chemicals, logistics, aircrafts and trucks, time and personnel. The
economic loss can be huge.

Soils and organic matter:


Take forest soils for example. Forest soils are rich in decaying debris and nutrients, and are
composed of many natural features that support a myriad of life forms and organic
activities. Wildfires raise the temperatures of these soils to over 900°C and this potentially
wipes away almost all the organic value of the soil.
Watershed:
The effect on watershed is also key. Burned organic matter in the soil (volatized organic
compounds) also affect the natural layering of the soils. This negatively affects infiltration
and percolation, making the soil surfaces water repellent. Water therefore is unable to drain
into water tables and the run-offs on the surfaces cause erosion.

Researchers believe that forest fires are not all that bad, as they have some benefits too. In
fact, they believe that even though young animals and birds may die, many animals are able
to escape or move away from fires. Birds fly away, dear and other reptiles find their own
escape routes and so on.

Many plants easily grow back and there is usually good recovery after a fire. Some plants
have their seeds opened up and exposed to ash-enriched soils. Examples include serotinus
cones, from a tree species such as jackpine. Species like white pine and yellow birch also
benefit from forest fires in a similar way.

Fighting wildfires

Different fires are fought differently, but the big idea is usually the same — to deprive the
fire of its fuel and let it go out by itself. This can be achieved in many ways.

Firelines or Firebreaks
With bull dozers and land equipment, firefighters clear a ring around the fire area and to get
rid of all fuel in the fire’s path. As the fire gets to the ring, it can no longer spread as there is
no fuel in its path.

Firing out
Fire fighters look for a natural edge or boundary, such as a road, stream or plain field, and
they do a controlled burn of all the fuel between the barrier and the fire. This means that
before the fire gets there, it would have already burned out.
Aircrafts

Special aircrafts call air tankers fly over the fire and dump water, fire retardant (eg.
the pink coloured one is called jelly-o) and chemicals (foam) on the fire. An example
of such chemical is ammonium phosphate. Sometimes suspended buckets of
between 100 to 2000 gallons carry water and sprinkle it over the fires. In some
developed countries, special pilot-less air tankers controlled by computers do this
job so that no human is put in harms way.

Technology
These days, satellites, computers, aircrafts and digital equipment are used to
monitor fires, forecast wind directions and create instant and effective maps and
information needed to fight fires. This makes it a lot easier and quicker for
firefighters to contain and put out fires.

Firemen
Trained firefighters are key to fighting fires. They get into gear (wear oxygen masks,
appropriate fire-proof clothing) and carry important tools on them to fight fires. One
good fireproof material used in their clothing is called Nomex. Sometimes they also
carry fire shelters if they get close to fires. There are special tents protect them from
extreme heat incase they are trapped by the fires.
How does a wildfire start?

Below are the most common ways in which wildfires are started. Take a look at the
composition below. Can you identify some fire hazards?

Campfires:
In many places, camping is a big thing. People, both young and old spend time in the woods
to enjoy the great outdoors. Sometimes fires are needed for various things during camping
and they can start wildfires if not put out properly.

Smoking:
Some people smoke whiles driving, biking or walking. Sometimes the buds are not properly
extinguished and thrown away. You never know where that bud will end up and start a fire.

Lightning:
A good number of wildfires were started by lightning. It is a bit hard to imagine, but
investigators confirm this as very common. When lightning strikes, it can produce a spark. It
can strike trees, power cables, rocks and many other things and just set them off.

Burning debris:
Refuse, junk and yard waste are common items that are permitted to burn in many
places. People are therefore very quick to set anything ablaze as a way of disposing
off them. But that can get out of hand and start a fire.
Accidents or equipment failure:
Car crashes, gas balloons, lawn mowers and many other equipment have been
known to start fires when they go wrong. These are accidental but if not detected
quickly, can cause massive problems. This is why fire fighters always move to an
accident scene in anticipation of a fire break.

Fireworks:
Fireworks are banned in many places because of their explosive nature and high potential to
start a fire. If fireworks are not blasted at the right places, they can end up as fires
elsewhere.

Arson:
This is the act of setting fire to a property, piece of land or anything with the intention of
causing damage. A person who does this is called and arsonist. Arson specialists believe that
many fires are started by arsonists, and may account for about 30% of all wildfire cases.

Factors that makes wildfires burn more.

There are some factors that combine to provide a complex web of ingredients that help
wildfires to burn more and quicker. Here are a few:

Wind
Winds direct or change direction of fire to new areas with new fuels. Additionally, they
provide fresh supply of oxygen, a key ingredient of fire, to the situation.

Slope
Wild fires usually move faster uphill than downhill. The steeper the slope, the faster they
burn. This is because steeper slopes tend to have lots of fuels in close proximity and the
wind action if much more aggressive uphill.
Temperature
Conditions with higher temperature tend to absorb moisture from fuels and make them
conducive to catch fire. This is why areas with lots of sun and higher temperatures tend to
be dry and has more fire events.

Humidity
Fuels in locations with high humidity and rainfall tend to be damp and moist. Humidity is the
amount of water vapor in the air. The higher it is, the higher the moisture in the fuels there
and the less likely they are to catch fire.

Times and seasons


In many places, the seasons tell a story. In the US, the summer stretch registers lots of fires.
That is because the summer heat makes fuels drier and provides richer oxygen than the
winter seasons. In many places in West Africa, the onset of the dry Harmattan Winds from
the Sahara desert in the dry seasons make fires burn more.

Fuels
The ease at which wildfires spread also depends on the fuel composition. Trees and
vegetation with lots of moisture tend to slow down fires than dry vegetation such as dry
grass, dead leaves, tree needles, brush and small trees. Additionally, some vegetation with
high oils and resins aid combustion and makes fires burn with more ease.

Space between fuels


Wildfires burn more and spread faster if there are more fuels in close proximity. If fuels are
sparsely distributed or are patchy, the fires tend to slow down. This is why a common
method of ending a fire is to create a ring of space around it.
Wildfire prevention tips

Preventing wild forest fires is something we must all learn about. Sometimes the very little
careless acts can cost the city a lot and even lives can be lost.

If you look at the previous page (Causes) you will surely have a general idea of what can be
done to help.

Public education is probably the most important activity in wildfire prevention. People must
be educated on how fires are started, the destruction they cause and the importance of
reporting fires, no matter how small.

Below are a few more things to know about fire prevention.

Contact you local fire department for all the laws, fire tips and safety information. Get
information of the closest fire hydrants and the conditions they are in.

Be sure to call the fire department any time you notice a fire or think there is a fire
hazard anywhere. A fire hazard is any thing or activity that can bring about a fire. Look out
for them at home, school, and on camping grounds.

Keep fire service and emergency numbers handy.

Learn how to use the fire extinguisher in the car, at home, in the office or school. Always
make sure they are in good condition. You can also plan escape routes in advance and go
through fire drills with your friends as a way of preparing for a real fire. It is also a good idea
to keep gallons of water handy and in strategic places.

If you live in a town where burning refuse or debris is permitted, be sure to do that in a
safe way. Always clear out any fuels that will make the fire stray onto another area. Keep
your eye on the fire ALL the time. Check the weather for winds and dryness as they can aid
burning.

Camping is a big deal in many countries but fires used at camping grounds must be
monitored very well. Keep campfires at a manageable size and use larger woods
rather than small twigs and grass. Make sure you extinguish it completely by pouring
water on it until it’s completely out. Get a friend to double check if it is out
completely!
Introduction to wildfires
Out of the many natural disasters we have, wild fires would be one
that is very common, very difficult to fight, and maybe the most
dangerous.

What is a fire?
Simple, it is the visible part of a combustion. A combustion is a
chemical reaction of three things: Heat, fuel and Oxygen. These
three ingredients must be present before a fire can be made and
maintained.

This can be best explained in the fire triangle below.

For the fire triangle to stand, all three ingredients must be present. If the
heat is not enough, or the fuel runs out, or the oxygen runs out, the fire
will be out.

Oxygen:
This is simply a gas found in air. The air we breath contains about 21% of
oxygen. In fact, only 16% is all that is needed to produce fire. When fuel
burns, it reacts with oxygen from the surrounding air. This chemical
reaction releases heat and other products such as gases, smoke and
particles. This process is known as oxidation. This is why some smoke
can be very dangerous because depending on what is burning, the gases
produced can be very deadly.

Fuel:
Fuel is any kind of combustible material. This can be gas, liquids or solids.
Examples of solid fuels include wood, dry leaves and even paper.
Examples of liquid fuels include petro and turpentine. Examples of gas
fuels include LPG Gas. Fuels with less moisture tend to burn faster than
fuels with high moisture.

Heat:
Heat is thermal energy. You may not see it, but can feel it. Extreme heat
of about 617°F will start a fire in the presence of fuel and oxygen. Heat
eliminates moisture from any nearby fuel, warms the air around and
prepares the fire path to accept the fire and make it burn with ease.

What is a wildfire?
A wildfire is simply an uncontrolled fire that is wiping out large fields
and areas of land. It is typically fires that started out of a lightning
strike, or people carelessly starting it, or accidentally, or even
arson, that went un-noticed and got out of hand. These fires
sometimes burn for days and weeks. They can wipe out an
entire forest and destroy almost every organic matter in it.
Wild fires can also be termed forest fires, grass fires, peat fires and
bush fires depending on type of vegetation being burnt. Note that
these fires tend to thrive in very warm and dry climates, rather than
the thick, moist rainforest types.
Wildfires and forests
The destructive nature of a wildfire in a forest is phenomenal. A
forest is an entire ecosystem consisting of biotic factors like
animals, insects, birds, bacteria, plants and trees. It also consists of
abiotic factors like water, rocks and climate in that forest area. If a
wildfire strikes such an ecosystem, all life forms will be lost. The air
and water will be heavily polluted. The soils will be badly degraded
and other abiotic elements will be affected including water
catchment areas.
Different wildfires burn differently.
Fires that burn organic material in the soil are called ground fires.
This is a slower burning fire, usually under litter or under
vegetation. They burn by glowing combustion.
Some fires burn on the surface of the ground. They burn dry leaves,
broken twigs and branches and other materials on the ground.
These fires spread quickly and are known as surface fires.
Crown fires burn with huge flames and has intense heat and power.
They burn from tree top to tree top and spread very quickly with
the wind and heat. It is even worse if they are exposed to steep
slopes.
Spotting, is yet another interesting fire type. Sometimes winds blow
‘firebrands’ away from crown fires onto new areas. Firebrands are
like fireball that fly from burning treetops to other new places,
resulting in new fires and keeps the fires xsspreading.
Conflagration: This is a large fire with a character of aggravation,
usually enhanced with wind action and firebrands.