Wildfires’ Fueled by Weather, Wind & Dry Underbrush
Uncontrolled blazes fueled by weather, wind, and dry underbrush, wildfires can burn acres of land consuming everything in their paths in minutes.
On average, more than 100,000 wildfires, aka wildland fires or forest fires, clear 4 to 5-M acres of land in the US every year. In recent years, wildfires have burned up to 9-M acres of land. A wildfire moves at speeds of up to 14 miles an hour consuming everything: trees, brush, homes, businesses and humans in its path.
There are 3 conditions that need to be present in order for a wildfire to burn, which firefighters refer to as the fire triangle: fuel, oxygen, and a heat source.
- Fuel is any flammable material surrounding a fire, including trees, grasses, brush, even homes. The greater an area’s fuel load, the more intense the fire.
- Air supplies the oxygen a fire needs to burn.
- Heat sources help spark the wildfire and bring fuel to temperatures hot enough to ignite. Lightning, burning campfires or cigarettes, hot winds, and even the sun can all provide the heat needed to start a wildfire.
Although 4 out of 5 wildfires are started by people, nature fans the flames.
Dry weather and drought convert green vegetation into bone-dry, flammable fuel, strong winds spread fire quickly over land, and warm temperatures encourage combustion.
When these factors come together all that is needed is a spark; in the form of lightning, arson, a downed power line, or a burning campfire or cigarette to ignite a blaze that could last for weeks and consume tens of thousands of acres.
These violent infernos occur around the world and in most of the 50 US states and Canada, but they are most common in the US West, where heat, drought, and frequent thunderstorms create perfect wildfire conditions.
Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and California experience some of the worst conflagrations in the US In California wildfires are often made worse by the hot, dry Santa Ana winds, which can carry a spark for miles.
Today, firefighters fight wildfires by depriving them of 1 or more of the fire triangle fundamentals.
Traditional methods include water dousing and spraying fire retardants to extinguish existing fires. Clearing vegetation to create firebreaks starves a fire of fuel and can help slow or contain it. Firefighters also fight wildfires by deliberately starting fires in a process called controlled burning. These prescribed fires remove undergrowth, brush, and ground litter from a forest, depriving a wildfire of fuel.
Although often harmful and destructive to humans, naturally occurring wildfires play an integral role in nature.
They return nutrients to the soil by burning dead or decaying matter. They also act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects from a forest ecosystem. And by burning through thick canopies and brushy undergrowth, wildfires allow Sunlight to reach the forest floor, enabling a new generation of seedlings to grow.
Remember, when traveling through Fire Danger regions always take extreme care, your life depends on it.