Fire control is the practice of limiting the spread of fires through techniques like fire suppression and prevention. This term can also be seen in use in a military context, to describe the operation and control of weapons systems with a high degree of accuracy and safety for operators as well as troops on the ground. For the purpose of this article, the focus is on its use in fire science.
Fires rely on fuel, oxygen, and heat, the three components of what fire crews refer to as “the fire triangle.” Taking out any one leg of the triangle causes it to collapse, suppressing the fire. Fire crews can use tools like fire foams and water to limit the supply of oxygen, for example, or they can create a buffer zone to eliminate fuel. Fire control can include automated systems as well as fire crews on the ground.
Large buildings usually have a fire suppression system. This can include sprinklers as well as releases of inert gases to force oxygen out of areas on fire. Gas suppression can be useful for limiting damage to the area, or in cases where water might make a fire worse; on metal and grease fires, for example, water can facilitate splatter and actually cause the fire to spread. Electrical fires also cannot be fought with water because the liquid will conduct electricity and make the fire larger.
One aspect of fire control is prevention, through the use of safety measures to limit the chances of a fire in the first place. These can include regular inspections of flammable systems as well as measures like keeping grass and shrubs near a house tightly trimmed so a wildfire cannot jump from the wilderness to a house. Building codes may include measures for fire control like the use of fire doors, which will resist the heat and flames to prevent a fire from streaming rapidly through an entire building or a craft like a boat.
When a fire breaks out, fire control focuses on eliminating one side of the fire triangle to stop the fire from spreading and put it out. The crew will consider the size and type of fire and evaluate their available options. Wildland firefighters cannot eliminate heat or oxygen, for example, but they can create buffer zones to eliminate fuel, forcing a forest fire to stay within a limited area. Conversely, a cook with a flaming pan could quickly eliminate oxygen by smothering the pan in baking soda and stopping the fire.