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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.

To control fire

The ability to control fire was a dramatic change in the habits of early humans. Making fire to generate heat and light made it possible for people to cook food, increasing the variety and availability of nutrients. The heat produced would also help people stay warm in cold weather, enabling them to live in cooler climates. Fire also kept nocturnal predators at bay. Evidence of cooked food is found from 1.9 million years ago, although fire was probably not used in a controlled fashion until 1,000,000 years ago. Early Human fire Evidence becomes widespread around 50 to 100 thousand years ago, suggesting regular use from this time; interestingly, resistance to air pollution started to evolve in human populations at a similar point in time. The use of fire became progressively more sophisticated, with its being used to create charcoal and to control wildlife from tens of thousands of years ago.

Fire has also been used for centuries as a method of torture and execution, as evidenced by death by burning as well as torture devices such as the iron boot, which could be filled with water, oil, or even lead and then heated over an open fire to the agony of the wearer.

By the Neolithic Revolution, during the introduction of grain-based agriculture, people all over the world used fire as a tool in landscape management. These fires were typically controlled burns or "cool fires", as opposed to uncontrolled "hot fires", which damage the soil. Hot fires destroy plants and animals, and endanger communities. This is especially a problem in the forests of today where traditional burning is prevented in order to encourage the growth of timber crops. Cool fires are generally conducted in the spring and autumn. They clear undergrowth, burning up biomass that could trigger a hot fire should it get too dense. They provide a greater variety of environments, which encourages game and plant diversity. For humans, they make dense, impassable forests traversable. Another human use for fire in regards to landscape management is its use to clear land for agriculture. Slash-and-burn agriculture is still common across much of tropical Africa, Asia and South America. "For small farmers, it is a convenient way to clear overgrown areas and release nutrients from standing vegetation back into the soil," said Miguel Pinedo-Vasquez, an ecologist at the Earth Institute's Center for Environmental Research and Conservation. However this useful strategy is also problematic. Growing population, fragmentation of forests and warming climate are making the earth's surface more prone to ever-larger escaped fires. These harm ecosystems and human infrastructure, cause health problems, and send up spirals of carbon and soot that may encourage even more warming of the atmosphereâ€"and thus feed back into more fires. Globally today, as much as 5 million square kilometersâ€"an area more than half the size of the United Statesâ€"burns in a given year.

There are numerous modern applications of fire. In its broadest sense, fire is used by nearly every human being on earth in a controlled setting every day. Users of internal combustion vehicles employ fire every time they drive. Thermal power stations provide electricity for a large percentage of humanity.

The use of fire in warfare has a long history. Fire was the basis of all early thermal weapons. Homer detailed the use of fire by Greek soldiers who hid in a wooden horse to burn Troy during the Trojan war. Later the Byzantine fleet used Greek fire to attack ships and men. In the First World War, the first modern flamethrowers were used by infantry, and were successfully mounted on armoured vehicles in the Second World War. In the latter war, incendiary bombs were used by Axis and Allies alike, notably on Tokyo, Rotterdam, London, Hamburg and, notoriously, at Dresden, in the latter two cases firestorms were deliberately caused in which a ring of fire surrounding each city was drawn inward by an updraft caused by a central cluster of fires. The United States Army Air Force also extensively used incendiaries against Japanese targets in the latter months of the war, devastating entire cities constructed primarily of wood and paper houses. The use of napalm was employed in July 1944, towards the end of the Second World War; although its use did not gain public attention until the Vietnam War. Molotov cocktails were also used.

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. Letus 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 wayctypically 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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