How Fighting Wildfires Works

This video was made possible by Squarespace. Build your website for 10% off at It’s 4 am on a mid-August morning in the
northern California wilderness. During a brief overnight storm, lightning
strikes the top of a hill, ignites some dry underbrush, and starts a wildfire. It isn’t until 6am as the sun rises that
someone notices the fire—a hiker camping an overlooking hill. As soon as the hiker’s 911 call is received
by the emergency dispatch center they contact Cal Fire—the agency responsible for wildfire
protection and management in California. By 6:30, they call the Redding, California
based smokejumpers. They are one of most elite firefighting squads
in the United States. There are only 400 smokejumpers in the US
and 40 of those are based here in Redding, California. They’re essentially the rapid response team
for wildfires. Within 15 minutes of receiving the call, these
smokejumpers are in their plane and taking off. It takes just 20 minutes to fly the 50 miles
to the fire site where they find a suitable tree-free landing spot, jump, deploy their
parachutes, and land. The plane then circles back to parachute down
boxes of equipment. Smokejumpers carry with them enough supplies
to last 72 hours completely self supported—food, water, shelter, safety equipment, and firefighting
tools. They follow the ridge line and make their
way to the fire. Now, this is a small team and they need to
decide how to prioritize what they do. With the fire already having grown to 15 acres
the team knows they’re unlikely to stop it on their own, backups are already on the
way, so their priority is to slow it down as much as possible. There are four major factors that affect how
fast a fire moves: how much fuel there is, how wet the fuel is, the wind direction, and
the slope. The two factors that the team can immediately
gauge that affect where the fire will move the fastest are the wind direction and slope. In this case the wind is coming from the north
and they know that to the south-west is an upward slope. Fire moves faster uphill than it does downhill
since fire burns upwards so these smokejumpers know that this is likely the fire’s fastest
moving front. While trees do burn, the primary source of
fuel that a wildfire uses to move is the dry brush and dead wood on the forest floor so
the biggest technique used to stop forest fires is to create what’s called a fire
line. These are essentially a gap where they remove
all fuel—plants both dead and alive—so that there’s nothing for the fire to continue
burning. The smokejumpers use a mix of chainsaws and
other hand tools to do this work but sometimes fire lines are pre-built. In this case there’s a road at the top of
the uphill section which will help slow or stop the fire so they can direct their efforts
elsewhere. They use the road as their anchor point—a
cleared section that the fire likely won’t cross where they start building their fire
line so the fire can’t outflank them. Throughout this construction process the smokejumpers
need to be sure that they can escape in case the winds shift or the fire picks up speed. Wildfires can move exceptionally fast—up
to 7 miles per hour in forests which is faster than humans are often able to make their way
through dense trees. In grasslands fires can move up to 14 miles
per hour so firefighters have to be extra cautious. For this reason firefighters rarely put themselves
directly in front of the fire’s moving front—they’ll either be far ahead or to the side. In the case of this fire as they’re building
this first fire line they’re close to a road which acts as an easy exit point but,
just in case, all smokejumpers carry fire shelters. These compact, lightweight shelters won’t
survive direct flames for too long, but they do greatly increase a firefighter’s chance
of survival in case they can’t escape the path of the fire. After a little over an hour of work the smokejumpers
complete a continuous fire line from the road to a stream. Streams, while less secure than roads, also
help stop or slow down a fire by acting as a fire line. To the south-east of the fire there’s also
a small road that connects to another stream meaning there are at least rudimentary fire
lines on three sides of the fire. It’s at this time when backups arrive by
road. The added manpower allows for much faster
action. The immediate focus goes to strengthening
the southeastern fire line—currently just a stream. At closest the fire’s less than 100 feet
from the stream and the stream is itself in a valley so it’s too risky to work directly
behind the stream, there’s just no good escape route, so the new arrivals get to work
on a redundant fire line 100 feet behind the stream. By 10 am the fire has further grown and the
team knows that the worst is still to come. Fires spread most rapidly between 10am and
sunset due to the daytime heat and wind. By 11am the fire has reached the road and
part of the fire line which means that some of those that were building the fire-line
are re-allocated to make sure that the fire-line holds—extinguishing any flames that may
jump the road. By noon the fire lines are holding and, while
the fire’s size is growing, it’s at a manageable pace so there’s reasonable hope
that it can be suppressed before expanding to an uncontrollable size. At 1pm, though, conditions change. The wind starts blowing harder towards the
south-west and, as trees burn on the north side of the road, the wind pushes embers over
the road which ignite underbrush on the other side and now the entire focus of the firefighting
efforts change. You see, the point of fighting wildfires is
not actually to put them out, it’s to control them. While the number of wildfires has increased
due to humans they’re actually a very natural phenomenon. What’s making wildfires worse is humans
stopping them. Many forests survive wildfire through trees
having heat-resistant bark and other evolutionary adaptations. These fire resistant forests relied on having
wildfires at a consistent interval every few decades to clear out the forest floor of dead
plants and to kill invasive species. Nowadays, though, as humans suppress fires
a forest might only see a wildfire every 50 years instead of 25, for example, meaning
that there’s twice as much fuel and so the fire burns faster, larger, and more intensely. It was only until recent years that the research
revealing this was widely accepted so the goals of firefighting shifted from stopping
wildfires completely to controlling them. In some places, being a firefighter actually
means starting fires. Fire management agencies will conduct controlled
burns in order to reduce the risk of an uncontrollable fire and to increase the health of a forest. While forests can survive wildfires, humans
cannot so most agencies will let fires burn in a controlled fashion up until the moment
they risk damaging property or threatening human life. This fire that jumped the road just did exactly
that. At the bottom of this slope is a town and
the fire is now headed in that direction with no preexisting features to stop it. That means that all measures must be taken
to aggressively stop the fire’s expansion to the west. That means it’s time to bring out the big
guns—it’s time to attack the fire from above. Planes and helicopters are some of the most
effective tools used to fight wildfires. They can quickly and accurately drop huge
amounts of water or fire retardant. The decision to use aerial firefighting does
not come lightly as it’s both hugely expensive and using an aircraft on one fire means it
can’t be used on another. Their use needs to be prioritized for the
most dangerous fires. There’s also a decision to be made on what
the aircraft is going to drop—water or flame retardant. Water is cheap and, with some aircraft designs,
can be reloaded near the fire without landing at an airport. Water is only effective at extinguishing flames,
though. Flame retardant, on the other hand, can be
used to stop flames from starting. It can essentially create a fire line ahead
of the fire’s spread as it will stop a line of forest from burning. The main issues, though, are that flame retardant
can only be loaded at an airport and it’s very expensive. A gallon of Phos-Chek, the most commonly used
brand of flame retardant, costs $3. That’s about the same as a gallon of milk
at the grocery store but these aircraft use thousands of gallons of it for each drop. The world’s largest firefighting aircraft,
the 747 supertanker, for example, carries 19,600 gallons of flame retardant meaning
that what it uses in one drop costs nearly $60,000. Of course there’s a reason agencies hire
this plane, it creates a 3 mile long fire line almost instantly, but it comes at a steep
price. For this fire, using such an expensive tool
would be overkill. In this case, they’ll use a helicopter with
a bucket attached. The bucket is filled with water from a nearby
lake then the helicopter flies over to the fire and drops it. With only 5 miles to the lake the helicopter
is able to make a drop about every 5-10 minutes and, while it works on stopping the spread
on one side hand crews work on building a fire line on the other. The area that the helicopter extinguishes
essentially acts as its own fire line as fire can’t burn what’s already burned. This work continues for the next few hours—its
vital to not let anything to the south-west of the road burn out of control. By 4pm the outbreak is managed and attention
can be directed back to the largest section of the fire. As the afternoon wears on some crews get back
to lengthening the eastern fire line, others begin constructing a western fire line, and
the helicopter works on slowing the advancement to the north. By the time the sun begins to set around 8,
all sides of the fire have at least some element of control so that during the night and in
the coming days the fire can continue to burn in a controlled fashion until there’s nothing
left to burn. This mission was a success but the reality
is that this is not a real fire. Real fires rarely end this well. Real fires don’t act so predictably because
real fires can’t be predicted. Real fires are a menace that can grow to the
size of small countries and can burn for months. During summer and fall, there are often more
than 100 large forest fires burning around the US at any given time and thousands more
around the world. No firefighting effort is exactly like another
but these are the primary techniques used by those who work everyday to protect life
and property from one of nature’s most dangerous phenomenons. Whether you’re fighting forest fires or
running a business the tools you use are crucially important. In both cases they directly affect how well
you do your job and, while chainsaws, axes, and shovels are some of the most important
tools in firefighting, Squarespace is one of the most important tools for running a
business. That’s because having a Squarespace website
helps you be found on the internet and presents you or what you do in the best way possible. Their beautiful designer templates and customizable
website builder make it easy to make something that looks and functions great. You can easily run a blog, a portfolio site,
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100 Replies to “How Fighting Wildfires Works

  1. I hope you guys enjoy this video! It's obviously quite an enormous topic that people will spend years studying condensed down into a ten-minute video so this isn't the comprehensive guide to stopping wildfires but for those that know nothing about wildfire suppression techniques I hope this will be interesting and informative!

  2. Poor land management that leads to build up of fire fuel leads to large wild fires. Burn regularly and the fires are manageable, if you have enough people that is. It's a problem that requires tons of money and active participation by everyone for no monetary gain. So they decide to play the "i'll just deal with it when it starts on fire" card.

  3. I was visiting California and got caught in the middle of the Mendocino complex fire. My hotel got evacuated and while driving down the highway I saw these brave men and women fighting this fire coupled with air drops of fire retardant from the Boeing plane. It was definitely a surreal experience because this is unheard of on the east coast. Glad I found this interesting video!

  4. how abaut setting counterfires ?
    i also heard that in some countreys bombs and explosives are used to create firelines – bombs and explosives that destroy trees and dig in the soil pre detonation covering everything with dirt it flings out creating craters
    that also chopps of or deroot trees so a wildfire that has reached and is burning treecrowns can be stopped
    i think they do that in Siberia, somewhere in Australia, and some south american countreys as well as maybe Canada and eastern Europe

  5. This, just randomly popping up in everyone's recommended as one of the worst wildfires is currently raging in Amazon. Who woulda known

  6. The real fire fighters are the inmates brraki g there backs cutting line for hours while the cal fire sits and gives instructions

  7. Very often when I see people fighting wildfires in California, I’ve noticed the CDC logo on their uniforms. Don’t get me wrong, jumping out of a plane into a fire at extremely low altitudes is morbidly dangerous. Still, the prison convicts working in the fire camps really deserve respect. They aren’t really earning any wage above better food and a more humane environment and living quarters. This is definitely worth it to the convicts who go, although their risks are the same if not greater than those of these professional smoke jumpers. Food for thought, especially for those ‘holier than thou’ types who might learn that it was prison convicts who saved their homes and property from an otherwise certain loss of all (no pun intended). Very informative, THANKS!

  8. I get chills watching the firefighters drop on the ground and cover themselves!
    It’s like from the movie Only the Brave 😣

  9. I wish to have strong rains in amazon goddd plzzzz….🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

  10. Unfortunately, not every CA fire department is on board with letting wildfires burn themselves out. Some departments are still trying to knock them down immediately.

  11. I know how to stop a wildfire
    Build a wall around the fire then flood the area in the wall and when the fire is gone just put the water in the ocean using giant buckets

  12. The Amazon is not "burning out" people. Wildfires happens there naturally and right now there is nothing out of the ordinary. And it's not as big as they are reporting, it's all fake news.

  13. New firefighting machines are needed, fleets of magnet-to-magnet powered hovercraft tankers don't need refueling, large fire net drones to captures crown flares like spinnakers & 24×7 all-weather comm.

    Tankers 1000gal each with nozzles & can mist large areas, made to fly among trees near the ground, power head works for mt. SAR & logging, 4500-5500hp class.

    So, with 50+ tankers & nets the basis to extinguish hillside fires in any wind by disrupting the volatile firefront with tankers both sides using drones.
    Ymmv, no funding.

  14. I Will Plant A Tree For Every Subscriber I Have At The End Of The Year!!!🌲🌳🌲🌳
    (This Is Not A Joke So Make Sure To Subscribe!!!)

  15. wth its 2019 and there isnt a better design system in place to stop wild fires, smh global warming effect will show very soon just watch…

  16. They should have a bulldozer on hand so that way they can plow the control line. Making the line wider in a shorter period of time. Then they can take the logs and haul them away from the fire

  17. In June 2018 I was on a trip to Colorado and I had to evacuate our campground because of a wildfire it smelt like smoke all day everyday and we could see it about 20 miles away, it was huge

  18. Or, instead of lightning, PG&E cuts costs and doesn't maintain power lines, so a fucking downed line starts another 60k acre fire, while they cut off power to the rest of the state to cover up the fact that they caused houses to burn and lives to be lost.

  19. IT is ridiculous how they are not willing to pay 60k for a fireextinguishing chemicals but they spend billions on the Military.

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