Fighting Forest Fires

Having worked for the United States Forestry Service as a Forest fir fighter battling wildfires I can state with firm conviction that it takes a lot of guts, determination, dedication, luck and intelligence mixed with a bit of prayer to put out a forest fire. A massive wildfire is a danger to everyone and everything, and putting it out is not easy.

When you go into a region with a forest fire, one major thing is good communication. This is because the fighters need to know where the fire is and what it is doing. Did a freak burst of wind just carry some sparks up and over the road, creating a fire on both sides of you? Will a plane be coming to drop water on the fire in your area? It may just be a horn that when it sounds means seek safety. It is essential to know these things when battling a wildfire if you don’t want to know how a turkey feels in the oven.

It also takes equipment because what you are doing is stopping the fire by removing anything it can use as fuel. A wide road is nice, but if not you might be able to make one with a bulldozer. No place for the bulldozer, shovels, blowers and rakes combined with some really good chainsaws work also. You make a wide path that the fire hopefully can’t cross (that is where the prayer comes in).

Once you create the path, you station fire fighters along it in case sparks get blown across. And that takes dedication as you sit and watch the fire approach, praying that it won’t cross the line, but knowing that you need to react as quickly as possible if it does. Night is easier because you can see the sparks better and the air is damper.

Battling a wildfire with planes, bulldozers, people and communications mean it takes teamwork to put out the fire, and intelligent teamwork. Everyone has to know their job and that they can all rely on each other. If someone panics or gets lazy, people not only suffer, but they can die! Intelligent action working together as a team is what it takes to put out a wildfire.

Sometimes it takes shear luck to put out a wildfire. A storm at first is bad as the wind can whip up the flames, but heavy showers that soon follow are much better that 100 water drops by planes. Also the cooler temperatures make it easier on the fighters, and they need all the help they can get from Mother Nature. Over time, even the worse wildfire has to run out of fuel, usually when it reaches a natural barrier when fighters can’t make them fast enough.

What does it take to put out a wildfire, guts, luck, determination and teamwork!