Fires are a powerful, natural phenomenon that can have a huge impact on the ecosystem and the people living in the area. A forest fire (more commonly referred to as wildfire) is any fire that may occur in a combustible vegetative environment or wilderness area. Forest fires can be ignited by either natural forces or by man's negligence. Other causes are all man-made. Fires are instigated by fuel and sustained by oxygen and heat. In forests, the trees and bushes serve as fuel. Although in a very small percentage, some forest fires are caused by spontaneous combustion. Every object has a temperature at which it ignites. This temperature is known as Flashpoint. [1: Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Third Edition. (2008). Cambridge University Press.]
The Flashpoint for wood is 572 degree Fahrenheit. When wood heats up to a temperature 572 degree Fahrenheit, it produces a gas that reacts with oxygen to make a flame. The flame then heats up rest of the wood in the tree, allowing the fire to grow. This can happen not only in the summers but also in winters. There are a lot of factors that help the wood to achieve the 572 degree it needs to fire-up; these include lightening, campfire sparks, and matches used in the forest vicinity.
Natural causes of forest fires include lightening, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake caused a fire only because there was no water to set out the blaze. So, even drought contributes to fires at certain times. Lightening was responsible for 45% of all forest fires caused in the 10-year period stretching from 1990 to 1999 in the state of Ontario, Canada.
One of the largest forest fires ever to be ignited were The Black Saturday Bushfires in the state of Victoria, Australia. These were a series of fires all over Victoria. On February 7, 2009, when extreme bush-fire weather conditions prevailed in the country, record temperatures were reached in cities like Melbourne at 115.5 degree Fahrenheit and by midday the wind speeds had reached their peak. The conjecture of these elements sparked a bush-fire that lead to the highest ever loss of life in Australia due to forest fires. With 400 individual fires recorded on that day, 173 people lost their lives and 414 people were injured as a result. The majority of the fires were caused due to fallen/clashing power lines while other suspected causes are lightening, cigarette butts, and sparks from power tools that lay unattended and also some deliberate lighting up. Even though a total of 3,582 firefighting personnel were dispatched by the authorities including those from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Department of sustainability and Environment (DSE), the fires ran on till mid-March, and were put out when favorable weather conditions aided the efforts of the Australian authorities. [2: Townsend, H. (February 7, 2009). City swelters, records tumble in heat. Melbourne: The Age.] [3: (Australia), V.P. (30 March 2009). Press conference: Bushfires death toll revised to 173. Media Release.]
There are numerous causes of man-made fires such as stray lit cigarettes, carelessness with campfires, burning of grass, leaves and bushes by campers/residents, and even some people intentionally set forests on fire for whatever purposes. Some of the fires are also caused by nearby operating railway activities and forestry companies. Even though most of the fires are caused by man's errors, it's the natural fires that lead to increased destruction and total area burnt. This is because human caused fires can be detected and reported early in their duration, not allowing them to burn for a long time and can be contained by the fire fighting authorities but it can be burning for hours before a natural fire is detected and the damage is already underway. This also makes it difficult for them to be contained.
A Forest fire differs from other fires by virtue of ability to jump gaps such as roads, rivers and other firebreaks, the speed with which it can spread out from its source and the extensive area it can cover. Basically, fires require three elements to burns ferociously; oxygen, heat and fuel. The fire triangle as it is so-called as without any one of these elements, the fire will go out.
Furthermore, the fire burns in the direction of the abundance of these three elements. Forest Fires can be classified in many ways the simple of which is, by the part of the forests in which they mainly occur. In accordance to the aforementioned criteria, Forest fires can either be Ground fires, Surface fires or Crown fires. It is not uncommon for more than one type of fire to burn simultaneously. Ground fires occur on the ground as a result of combustion or lightening striking the leaves on the forest floor. Surface fires occur up to 1.3 meters high up on the surface of the forest. And Crown fires occur on top of trees. Crown fires are said to be the most dangerous and fast spreading ones. They can jump from "crown" to "crown" of trees, spreading independently or they can be dependent upon surface fires to be carted around the forest, spreading at the same rate. Climatic changes such as heat waves, droughts and certain fluctuating regional weather patterns such as high pressure ridges can lead to increased chances of forest fire occurrence. Not only that, but they can also alter its behavior. [4: Chronological List of U.S. Billion Dollar Events. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Satellite and Information Service.]
Fires are also caused by structural fuels. A structure fire that which is caused by the structural components of residential and other buildings such as townhouses, tower blocks, apartments, office buildings and shopping malls etc. In cases of structure fires, it is not unusual for fire departments to have pre-determined mobilization plans for when a fire event is reported in their concerned area. Responses to structure fires include the dispatch of engines with fire rescue squads, ladder trucks, an EMS unit and fire chiefs to control and direct the situation. Sometimes even aerial firefighting vehicles are contracted to address the situation if it is dangerous enough. Wildfires can occur on almost every continent except for Antarctica. Causes of forest fires can vary throughout the world. In Canada, The United States and China, lightening is the major factor that leads to ignition. While in places like Africa, South America, Mexico, Fiji, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, human activities lead along with human carelessness in Australia, lead to most of the raging forest fires.
Even though they cause a large amount of damage to land, property and people, forest fires can be highly beneficial for certain plant species that require fire for their growth and reproduction. New branches sprout from the trunk of a Eucalypts after its branches has been burned off by a fire. Similar behavior is exhibited by scrub oak, chamise, and Australian grass trees. While plants such as Cape Lilies use fires to promote their reproduction patterns as they lie dormant until the flames brush away their covering. They then bloom almost overnight. Other plants that use flames to jumpstart their reproduction process include the Lodgepole Pine, Jack Pine, Sequoia and Fireweeds. [5: Pyne, S.J. (n.d.). How Plants Use Fire (And Are Used By It). Retrieved from Nova Online: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/fire/plants.html]
Forest fires not only have a negative impact on the ecosystem, but also on the overall economy and human health. Every year, forest fires not only cause irreparable damage to the forest ecosystems and some of the times even threaten residential regions. It scars the earth by leaving a visual impact of destruction and devastation. It also sometimes involves the loss of life, damage to nearby property and the environment.
Forest Fire suppression techniques have developed rapidly in the previous few decades to combat and suppress raging wildfires. This involves equipment such as firefighting aircrafts, and highly trained firefighting personnel, that include Smokejumpers. Smokejumpers are basically firefighters that parachute into remote areas in fire distress.
The first thing that is kept in mind when the firefighting crew arrives at the scene of the blaze is the safety of human lives, both civilian and firefighters. The firefighting crew devises strategies that involve the protection of lives. They establish safety zones, escape routes and ensure that proper communication is in place before they set out on their mission. A huge amount of emphasis is placed on the avoidance of entrapment, which is a situation where escape from a fire struck vicinity is impossible. The use of a fire shelter is a last resort of the fire fighters. A fire shelter is a device that is designed to reflect heat, provide protection against convective heat and trap breathable air in an attempt to save lives of those caught in an entrapment. [6: Group, N.W. (March 2003). The New Generation Fire Shelter .]
Early detection is the key to fast and effective firefighting. Fire lookout towers have been set up since in…