Grasses at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas.
Fire Basics for Kids
Our Fire Basics section is designed for kids who want to learn more about fire.
What is Fire?
What role does fire play in different ecosystems?
Fire is a chemical reaction that starts with lightning, lava or a match. How it burns depends upon three key things. What it leaves behind can be surprising.
Fire is the combination of heat, oxygen, fuel and an ignition source—known as the fire triangle. Fuels include grasses, needles, leaves, brush and trees. Natural ignition sources include lightning and lava. Fire management staff sometimes starts fires to improve habitat or restore natural systems. However, sometimes people also start unwanted wildland fires through carelessness or arson.
Where and how quickly a fire moves depends on the terrain, weather and types of fuel. Fires burn faster up hillsides than they do on flat ground. The heat rising from the flames pre-heats the grasses, shrubs or trees on upslope. Like sheets of paper, grasses burn quickly, up to several miles per hour under extreme conditions. Larger fuels, such as logs, may take hours or even days to burn completely. While windswept flames can leap into the crowns of trees and burn entire trees in seconds, many fires merely creep along the ground slowly burning brush and forest litter.
The diversity of plants and animals you enjoy in many national parks can depend upon fire. What may look at first like devastation soon becomes a panorama of new life. Fire starts critical natural processes by breaking down organic matter into soil nutrients. Soil, rejuvenated with nitrogen from ash, provides a fertile seedbed for plants. With less competition and more sunlight certain seedlings grow quickly.
Fuels Include Grasses, Needles, Leaves, Brush and Trees
Brush and shrubs at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
Trees at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
Tundra in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.
Burning Uphill vs. Flat Ground
Uphill burning at Glacier National Park, Montana.
Burning on flat ground at Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota.
Animals quickly return to an area after a fire. Soon tender green grass will grow and provide a good food source for the bison at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas.
Seedlings grow after a fire
Sapling sequoias grow in the area of the 1988 Congress prescribed fire at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California.
A grass stage longleaf pine at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Alabama.