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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.

Devastation in New South Wales and other parts of Australia

Bush fires of the type that regularly affect parts of Australia cause chaos and devastation for people, animals and the land. New South Wales [NSW] has suffered significant fire related trauma and loss over the years. In the last 50 years there have only been two 2 that have seen more fire damage than this year. Those years were 1974 and 1984, based on data from the University of Wollongong’s centre for environmental risk management of bushfires. Fires in 1974 were the worst, and were responsible for burning 3.5m hectares of land. In NSW and Queensland over 100 fires have been burning for weeks, and NSW is 99.9% in drought, with tight restrictions on water usage in place.

Scientists state that fire conditions are worse now than in decades gone by which were fuelled differently. In the past they burned vast, mostly remote areas, and were fuelled by green, non-woody plants. These plants had grown abundantly due to above average rainfall usually in the far west. However, the most recent fires have occurred in the east of the state, and have been fuelled by a record breaking drought. Lack of moisture, along with increased temperatures and wind speed has exacerbated the situation, allowing small fires to take hold quickly.

Unprecedented Rainfall Deficiency

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

Rainfall deficiency has resulted in the lowest rainfall on record, and the unprecedented outcomes being experienced in Australia at the moment. Fires are not even being impeded by natural landscape features, as happens normally. Experts are predicting long-term ecological and environmental consequences. A rise in respiratory problems caused by smoke, has already been noted in NSW and Queensland.

It seems no area is safe, with these ravaging fires destroying all including rainforests, swamps and wet-eucalypt forests. Some locations had not been affected by fire for over 1,000 years, just one of the aspects that make recent events a game changer. It is reported that 23 former fire and emergency services chiefs around the country have come together to warn about climate change, and the need for their government to act.


Fire Safety & Awareness when Camping & Enjoying Outdoor Pursuits, Fire Fighting Chemicals, Environmentally Friendly Foams & Powders. Fire Extinguishers, Fire Attack Systems, Cost Effective Fire Extinction & Wetting Agents

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