Terminology used in Forest Fire Suppression

Terminology that has to do with forest fire suppression includes words and phrases used by botanists, meteorologists and fire fighters. Forest protection managers use the scientific language that has to do with trees and wind direction. Weather language also plays a big part. Managers should have good speaking skills as well.


Managers will name trees, bushes and lumber that each forest provides, as well as how hot it will burn or if it will burn. Some plants help with fire suppression. Managers will talk easily about the parts of the bush or trees, using terms that the average person does not know like: ground, surface or crown fires. A ground fire refers to the burning of humus, minerals and litter, stuff that covers the ground. Surface fires refer to the burning of vegetation and small trees, as well as the ground. Crown fires start as surface fires and climb up into the tops of the trees.   


Managers also use terms that have to do with wind direction, humidity, moisture, temperatures, visibility and risk. Managers will describe that a wind is blowing SSE at 30 mph and will know approximately how much damage that can cause. This science clarifies and predicts what will happen. How much exposure does the area have? This relates to the dryness of the area and how windy the area is. Visibility relates to how much smoke is in and around the burn area. Temperature relates to air and fuel temperature.


Because newspapers and the media want to know all about a forest fire, managers have to also have excellent English skills. They have to speak intelligently, both scientifically, as well as grammatically.


Managers use words to describe the steepness of a mountain or hill. Deciduous trees may cover mountains. Mountain meadows may also cover the area of a fire and that adds additional complications or relief depending on the type of fire. Managers need to know how easy an area is to reach. Are the sides too steep for the fire fighters to safely reach? Knowing how to read a topographical map and give instructions around rivers, lakes, mountains and campground is essential.

Fire suppression terminology includes words borrowed from different sciences and includes the language of the people. It includes terms that help fire fighters get to the fire and stay safe once they are there. Managers need to know how to talk to news reporters and the general public about a fire in order to keep everyone safe.

Source: Study Unit 10: Forest Protection, Conservation, North American Correspondence Schools, 1985