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Wildfire Facts

Wildfire Facts - credit Idaho Wildfire

A wildfire is the term used to describe an uncontrolled fire, usually in unpopulated areas but sometimes where homes, farms and animal housing exists. This type of forest or peat fire is potentially devastating whether it ignites naturally or deliberately as is the case in around 90% of cases. The fire service have a number of names for these fires such as spot fires, ground fires, surface fires and dependent crown fires. They are fuelled by combustible material like vegetation, bushes and grass.

Wildfires are different from most other fires due to their substantial size, the speed at which they can travel, and their ability to suddenly change direction and jump gaps like rivers and roads. Wildfires are caused in various ways across the globe and are more frequent in some places than in others. For instance every year in the USA it is usual for over 6 times the amount of wildfires to be caused by things like camp fires, carelessly discarded cigarette butts, machinery sparks and agricultural burns, than by natural means. This can vary from year to year though, and in fact natural fires can cover a wider area and do more damage.

Effects of Weather Conditions on Wildfires & Forest Fires

Weather can have a drastic effect when it comes to wildfires, dry and windy weather conditions will exacerbate a fire, and lightning can start them in the first place. Lightening strikes the earth more than100,000 times a day, and in up to 20% of cases will result in a fire. Intensely hot, arid atmospheres will heat up dead matter like twigs, brush and leaves enough to allow them to spontaneously combust and also ignite the surrounding area. Wildfires are typically categorised by their fuel source, for example:

Crawling or Surface fires spread with a flamed front, and come about when low lying matter containing grass, leaves, debris, wood and shrubbery are set alight.

Ground fires can burn and smoulder for days or even months and can be produced by buried organic matter and subterranean roots.

Common Types of Wildfire & their Fuel Sources

Common Types of Wildfire & their Fuel Sources - credit Daniel.Stark

Ladder fires, as the name suggests frequently connect low level fires with tree canopies, via things like smaller trees, logs and a wide variety of climbing plants. By utilising these the fire ascends upwards to develop into a crown fire.

Crown or Canopy fires consume tall trees, moss and vines that are dense, and burn through the uppermost layers of tree foliage. Extremely inaccessible they are difficult to contain and subdue, gaining strength and momentum from things like strong winds, steep slopes and thick foliage fuel.

In 2007 fires burned throughout southern California for a month, after the strenuous efforts of 6,000 firefighters the fires were finally controlled. As the fires swept across the land, they were responsible for 14 deaths, 85 injuries,1,500 destroyed buildings and 500,000 acres of charred land. The 1,000,000 shocked and traumatised people who had to evacuate their homes must have thought they were dreaming when they learned that the cause of this catastrophe, was a 10 year old boy playing with matches in his backyard!

Fire Safety & Awareness when Camping & Enjoying Outdoor Pursuits

It is crucial to practice common sense when conditions indicate there is a risk of fire, and follow some basic guidelines when engaging in outdoor pursuits. High winds mean it's not a good idea to do any kind of burning, as they can act as an accelerant. When camping only light campfires in safe areas such as fire pits and keep the fire fairly small. Bear in mind that fires can get out of control really fast. Be careful about what you place in the fire, organic materials, twigs and leaves etc are fine, even cardboard or paper. Certain other materials could react badly in a fire and may cause a problem.

Take care when using fireworks that there are no foliage plants or trees nearby and ensure they are properly extinguished with water after use. Cigarettes should be put out in a cup of water if possible, preventing them from igniting anything. Also avoid parking your vehicle on dry vegetation during extended hot weather, as exhaust heat can cause ignition.


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