What Is a Wildland Fire?

Benjamin Arie

A wildland fire is an out of control fire that takes place in a wilderness setting. Wildland fires are alternately known as forest fires or wildfires. By definition, these types of fires cover a large area and spread quickly. While they are certainly destructive, wildland fires can be beneficial to the environment in some cases. There are both natural and man-made causes of wildfires, and multiple ways of fighting them.

Wildlife fires are also known as forest fires.
Wildlife fires are also known as forest fires.

These fires are not limited to only one type of geography. They are found on every continent in world with the exception of Antarctica. These infernos are difficult to predict and control, due in part to the tendency of flames to change direction and even spread across barriers such as roads. The ability of a wildland fire to expand extremely rapidly is one of the reasons they often deadly.

If needed, firefighters work to control and contain wildfires.
If needed, firefighters work to control and contain wildfires.

Any wooded area can become the site of a wildfire. Densely filled locations such as woodlands and scrublands are at particular risk. Additionally, human structures including buildings can become part of a fire if the flames spread to a populated area. Fires can vary in size, and some major wildland fires have been known to cover 100,000 acres (400 square kilometers).

Despite the obvious destruction that a raging fire can bring, wildland fires also have benefits. Fires prevent vegetation from becoming overgrown, and clears away dead material so that new trees and plants can emerge. The challenging goal of many wildlife management experts is to find a balance between the positive and negative aspects of forest fires, and allow natural fires to occur without harming people.

A wildfire can be ignited by many sources. Lightening strikes are a cause of numerous fires, and other natural occurrences such as spontaneous combustion. This particular ignition source can occur when a heavy layer of dry, flammable material sits under the sun. In areas with volcanic activity, sparks and heat from underground can inflame a wildland fire.

In many cases, a fire can be started due to carelessness. Cigarettes and sparks from machinery are common ignition sources, along with arcing from power lines. Intentional arson and unauthorized burning can also create a fire that quickly spreads out of control.

Several methods exist for preventing or fighting a wildland fire. Education is the primary tool for fire prevention. Many groups seek to promote human responsibility in this area, so that actions such as camping or smoking do not cause damaging infernos. If a fire needs to be controlled, special wildland fire fighters and firefighting equipment can be deployed. Fighting a blazing fire is both dangerous and expensive, and prevention is usually preferred over wildfire suppression.

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