Fire Kills More People Than Any Other Force Of Nature
Against this enemy (fire), courage alone is not enough. From the beginning, firefighters have had to find ways to climb higher, shoot water farther, spot fires sooner. Here are some of the milestones in the history of fire-extinction technology.
Fire is a significant force in the forest environment. Depending upon the specific land management objective and a host of environmental variables, fire will sometimes be an enemy, sometimes a friend, and frequently its effects will be mixed between the two extremes.
In order to have a fire, there must be three elements: 1) Fuel -- something which will burn (such as paper, wood, etc.) 2) Heat -- enough to make the fuel burn and 3) Oxygen -- air we breathe. Usually these three elements are expressed as a triangle, called the fire triangle. Remove one of these three elements and the fire will go out.
Fire Behavior is one of the most important aspects of wildfires because almost all actions taken on a fire depend on how it "behaves." Success in presuppression planning and actual suppression of wildfires is directly related to how well Fire Managers understand and are able to predict fire behavior. The safety of all fire fighting personnel also depends on this knowledge.
What makes some wildfires burn so hot and others not? What makes fires spread fast one day and slow on another day? A wildfire behaves according to the environment in which it is burning. This environment consists of various elements of fuels, topography and weather. These elements and their reactions with one another - and the fire itself - determine the behavior of fire.
Fire Behavior is defined as: the manner in which fuel ignites, flame develops, and fire spreads as determined by the interaction of fuel, weather, and topography. There are many elements under each of the three major components of the fire's environment that affect how a fire behaves. A change in any one of these elements will cause a change in the behavior of the fire--and this change can be very abrupt and rapid.
Fire weather is a fairly broad term used to describe weather variables that influence fire potential, behavior, and suppression. LetÂus briefly talk about some of these variables and their ties to fire weather. The first and probably the biggest would be wind. Wind not only fans the flames, but is the biggest influence on speed and direction of fire spread.
Relative humidity is a measure of how moist or dry the atmosphere is. The lower the relative humidity, the drier the airmass, which subsequently has a drying effect on the fuels. Different fuels will dry at different rates depending on the weather they are exposed to, the size of the fuel, and the fuels chemical makeup. Low humidity is especially critical when combined with wind, which speeds the drying effect.
Thunderstorms can be critical as they can provide a perfect trifecta of weather which is comprised of wind, lightning, and rain. Lightning provides an ignition source for wildland fires, while gusty erratic winds from thunderstorms can push the fire in all directions at the same time. Rain is typically a more positive feature of fire weather. It can slow down or even halt fire spread as it replenishes moisture in the fuels. Although on the flip side, small amounts of rain can hinder access to a fire by mudding up the roads.
Atmospheric stability also plays a key role in fire behavior. Atmospheric stability refers to the ease in which the atmosphere is able to move in the vertical. In an unstable environment, in which air moves freely in the vertical, the fire can be ventilated. This happens much in the same way as opening the damper on a fireplace adds air to the fire. When the atmosphere remains stable it acts in the opposite wayÂctypically hindering fire growth. This comes at a price however, as visibilities and air qualities are generally greatly diminished.
The Weather Service supports land management agencies as well as local fire departments by providing routine fire weather forecasts during the peak fire season (July - September) as well as site specific spot forecast for a particular incident. We also issue Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings to highlight critical fire weather conditions.
A fuel is anything that will burn. Forests have plants at different levels - canopy, understory, and forest floor. So, the fuels in the forest will be at different levels, too. Aerial fuels do not in touch the ground. They are at least 39 inches above the ground. Aerial fuels could be branches, leaves, and bark still on the tree or tall bushes. Surface fuels are on the ground. Here you'd find bushes, logs, stumps and fallen leaves, needles, branches, and cones. Ground fuel is anything that will burn below the surface fuels. That could be roots or rotting branches, leaves and needles.
Ground fires burn the ground fuels. These fires usually don't have much flame, they smolder. Surface fires burn the surface fuels. Crown fires burn the aerial fuels. Crown fires spread from tree to tree and are the most destructive. Fuel ladders form when fuels at different levels touch. Fuel ladders move fire up from the ground into the tree tops.
Fire is an important natural force that causes change in an ecosystem. Prescribed fires are fires intentionally set when the conditions are correct, reintroducing the beneficial effects of fire into an ecosystem. The beneficial effects are many: reducing fuel build-up so that wildfires that do start will not become catastrophic, releasing plant nutrients back into the soil enhancing plant growth, and keeping areas open and free of shrub and tree growth among others.
If fire is a natural force that has always been around it makes sense that plants and animals have adapted to surviving fires. Wildfire is one of the most destructive natural forces known to mankind. While sometimes caused by lightening or volcanoes, nine out of ten wildfires are caused by people. Put simply "wildfire" is the term applied any unwanted and unplanned fire burning in the forest, shrub, or grasslands.
The current increase in wildfires can by explained by four factors: 1) Past fire suppression policies, including one of "total suppression" which allowed for the accumulation of fuel in form of fallen leaves, branches, and excessive plant undergrowth in forest; 2) Increasingly hot, dry weather; 3) Changing weather patterns across the U.S. and 4) Increase residential development in forested areas. Did you know that every year there are an average of 106,400 wildfires, over 4 million acres of land are burned, and 9 out of 10 fires are started by people.
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