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How Do You Combat a Brush Fire [#infographic #wildfire]

Incredible wildfire statistics in 2019

As of October 29th, 2019 there have been 44,537 fires in the U.S. since the beginning of the year, burning a total of 4,558,859 acres. This includes two fires in Arizona, seven fires in California, four in Colorado, one in Texas, and two in Utah. The annual number of acres burned has steadily increased since 1980, according to the Insurance Information Institute. California, Texas, Colorado, Arizona and Idaho are the top five states at risk for extreme wildfires as of 2019. The Insurance Information Institute also states that the Carr Fire was the eight most destructive in California history. It is estimated the damage cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion when it happened.

One of the deadliest and most expensive brush fires is the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California. The fire was estimated to cost $16.5 billion, burning 153,336 acres and killing 85 people. According to National Geographic, California had 8,054 wildfires in 2018 and lost a total of 1,823,153 acres of land.

Brush fires, as one of eight different classifications of wildfires, are particularly dangerous, but they can be prevented and contained when they do happen. It is generally best practice to clear dried out vegetation away from buildings and other structures in order to avoid the spread of wildfires. Wildfires cause a great amount of damage and can be prevented by paying close attention to potential threats. Although there are some naturally occurring events that start brush fires, such as droughts and bark beetles, it is still possible to stop the spread of brush fires.

Firefighters help to contain brush fires using a number of methods, but one of the best ways civilians can help out is to be vigilant. Pay close attention to motorized vehicles, fireworks, and unattended campfires. It’s important to be responsible and attentive.

How do brush fires start?

Fire is a chemical reaction made up of fuel, oxygen, and heat. The fuel is any material that is dry enough to burn. The fuel reacts with the oxygen in the air which then releases heat. All three elements are needed to start a brush fire.

Flammable debris such as leaves, twigs, pine needles, shrubbery and grass can cause brush fires to start. Mechanical engines, such as those in motorized vehicles, may also spark a fire. Other fire starters include lit cigarettes, fireworks, and unattended campfires which can all emit sparks, potentially causing a brush fire.

According to a study , 84 percent of U.S. wildfires reported from 1992 to 2012 were human-caused and 16 percent were caused by a lightning strike. Some human-caused fires include the Rim Fire, which was caused by a hunter’s illegal fire that got out of control, and the Camp Fire, which was caused by a faulty power line.

Unfortunately, intentionally-caused wildfires are a problem too. Redzone estimates that of the 58 most destructive wildfires in U.S. history, 16 are confirmed arson fires – approximately 28 percent. Of these 16 fires, nearly 6,500 structures were destroyed, one million acres of land burned, and they caused the loss of 50 lives.

Climate change is another factor that can start a brush fire. Once started, brush fires release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that warm the planet. They also release soot and other aerosols into the Earth’s atmosphere that then affect global warming and cooling. Brush fires start an endless cycle where they are adding to climate change and its effects. According to the NOAA and the Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, a large fire that destroys 500,000 acres has the potential to emit the same amount of CO2 as six large coal-fired power plants in one year.

Other elements that cause wildfires to spread are strong winds, dry brush and scrub, droughts, and bark beetle outbreaks During periods of intense droughts, bark beetles strip away moisture from trees by laying their eggs inside the tree’s tissue. Typically healthy trees have a defense system where they pump resin through the beetles’ tunnels to force them out. However, trees that lack water from a drought are not able to produce the resin needed to keep the bark beetles out. When this happens, bark beetles release pheromones to alert other beetles of the weakened tree. This causes an influx in bark beetles to that tree and surrounding trees. After the bark beetles have infested an area the dead trees that are left are often prone to catching fire. The climate changes happening around the globe are also not helping with the bark beetle infestations across the nation. Typically it is cooler temperatures that freeze the bark beetles’ eggs, however, according to CBS News, a Dartmouth College study reported that the planet has warmed by 1.5 degrees since 1880. This means winters have been warmer by six to seven degrees in many areas of the U.S. compared to 50 years ago. The warmer weather not only causes less rainfall, but it means the bark beetles cause more damage.

What is the best way to contain a brush fire?

There are three ways to contain a brush fire: fire trucks, firefighters, and aircraft. According to Live Science, firefighters on the ground contain brushfires by laying down fire hoses along the fire’s edge every 100 feet. They then create a fire line around the perimeter of the fire and then they remove fuel such as dry shrubs and grass.

Firefighters also do controlled burning to contain brush fires. Controlled burning is when firefighters intentionally burn fuels to manage forests and other terrains. This is typically done in colder months to decrease the buildup of brush, grass, shrubs, and other potentially flammable vegetation. Control lines are used in controlled burning to create a natural or manmade boundary. A river can serve as a natural control line, whereas a road would be a manmade control line. Sometimes control lines aren’t powerful enough to completely stop a fire. In these cases, firefighters use small torches to burn out vegetation within the control line.

Similar to burning out, firefighters use backburning to control fires. Backburning is when firefighters create a fire downwind of the main fire on the inside of the control line. Then they move that fire back to meet the main fire by burning brush in between the two areas.


According to Mental Floss, other methods firefighters use to control brush fires include hot spotting, knocking down, cold trailing, mopping up, and fireline explosives. Hot spotting is reducing the most intense parts of the fire by diverting resources to contain the biggest, hottest parts. Knocking down refers to firefighters directly applying dirt, water or flame retardant to the hottest, most active parts of the fire. Cold trailing and mopping up are two similar ways to contain a brush fire. Both methods involve going over already burned areas and putting out any embers that are left over. Lastly, fireline explosives are used to break up dense vegetation and fallen trees that may spread the fire beyond the control line.

Helicopters and drones are other tools used to fight fires. Helicopters fly over very large fires and dump water or suppressant foams to prevent unburned fuels from catching on fire. Additionally, aircraft called air tankers dump flame retardant chemicals on fires to put out the flames. Drones can be used to secure aerial footage of the fires and help better scope out the area that is in danger of being burned. Using drone footage helps firefighters be better equipped to handle the fires. It gives them a bird’s-eye view of the area that needs more attention, and shows them potential risks such as power lines or water systems that could be interrupted by the blaze.

Another way brush fires can be prevented is for researchers to analyze satellite imagery. According to Live Science, since 1984, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey have been mapping the severity of major wildfires across the nation, pinpointing where and when they happen.

In Boise, Idaho goat grazing prevents brush fires. By renting the animals, Boise residents are seeing less brush fires occur. The goats feed on cheatgrass and weeds that often fuel brush fires. According to the Idaho News, 100 goats can graze an acre a day.

There are some fire resistant trees that can help prevent brush fires as well. Some of the most fire resistant trees are Coast Live Oak, Flowering Horse-Chestnut, Japanese Elm, American Mountain Ash, Southern Magnolia, Ponderosa Pine, and the Baobab tree. Planting these trees near homes, cabins, or commercial buildings can help reduce the number of brush fires in a given area.

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