Article Series

Series: Wildland Fire - Learning In Depth

Looking to dive deeper into learning about wildland fire and how it is managed in the national parks?

  • Chapter 1: Understanding Fire Danger

    Fire danger is a description of the combination of both constant and variable factors that affect the initiation, spread, and ease of controlling a wildfire on an area. Many systems and schemes attempt to provide accurate and reliable predictions of fire danger; analyze the fuel, topography, and weather; and integrate their effects into a set of numbers that fire managers can use to meet their needs. Read more

  • Chapter 2: Wildland Fire: Incident Command System

    ICS is a system designed to manage any size of wildland fire incident from beginning to end, until the requirement for management no longer exists. As a result of those fires, a need was identified to develop a system whereby different agencies could work together toward a common goal in an effective and efficient manner. Read more

  • Chapter 3: Wildland Fire: Incident Command System Levels

    The Incident Command System (ICS) is flexible, scaling up or down as complexity changes and the needs of the incidents change. Type 5 is the least complex, while Type 1 is the most complex. The National Park Service supports and participates in interagency teams at both national and geographical area levels. Read more

  • Chapter 4: Wildland Fire and Ecosystems

    wildland fire at Sequoia National Park

    Fire is one of nature’s oldest phenomena. Fire is also a cultural phenomenon. It probably was the first product of nature that humans learned to control for use in hunting, clearing land, communicating at a distance, and fighting. More recently, humans harnessed fire in engines to power machinery. Today, approximately 10 percent of all wildland fires in the United States are started by lightning strikes, and the remainder are caused by humans. Read more

  • Chapter 5: Researching the Effects of Wildland Fire

    park ranger pointing at a tree trunk that shows signs of fire

    Research on the effects of fire forms an important basis of decision making for park managers. Fire has a profound influence on NPS lands, so information about the use and effect of prescribed fire on park resources is critical to scientifically based management decisions. Read more

  • Chapter 6: National Wildfire Preparedness Levels

    National wildfire preparedness is typically described in five levels with regards to fire activity and resources committed. The National Multi-Agency Coordination Group establishes preparedness levels throughout the year to help ensure that firefighting resources are ready to respond to new incidents. Preparedness levels are dictated by burning conditions, fire activity, and especially resource availability. Read more

  • Chapter 7: Wildland Fire: What is a Prescribed Fire?

    Prescribed fire at the Revolutionary War-era Saratoga National Historical Park

    Fire managers may “prescribe” a treatment for resource benefits or research that includes lighting a fire in an area for various purposes after careful planning and under carefully controlled conditions. Prescribed fire is a planned fire, and is used to meet management objectives. A prescription is a set of conditions that considers safety, weather, and probability of meeting the burn objectives. Read more

  • Chapter 8: Wildland Fire Spread and Suppression

    fire spread

    There are three general patterns of fire spread: ground, surface, and crown fires. Fire is a fairly common occurrence, but very few fires become extremely large. In the United States, 2-3 percent of fires account for more than 95 percent of the total area burned annually. The blackened plots left behind by these large fires contribute to the image of fire as a destroyer. In reality, a planned prescribed burning program can provide many benefits that enhance ecosystem health. Read more

  • Chapter 9: Wildland Fire Management Personnel

    It takes many different types of people with various skills to manage a fire. Fire crews are the backbone of the fire suppression effort. Crews are differentiated between Types 1, 2, and 3 based on experience, leadership, and availability. Other types of fire crews include interagency and NPS hotshot crews, wildland fire modules, helitack crews, smokejumpers, and engine crews. Overhead personnel provide behind the scenes support for firefighters. Read more

  • Chapter 10: Wildland Fire: Fireline Construction

    firefighters building a fireline at Yosemite

    Fireline is a break in fuel, made by cutting, scraping, or digging with a bulldozer or hand tools. All fuels are removed and the surface is scraped to mineral soil on a strip 6 inches to 3 feet wide, depending upon the fuel and slope. Often a break in the weather allows workers to encircle and contain the fire. Then the hard, dirty work of mop up begins to bring the fire under control. Firefighting resources are released (demobilized) as they are no longer needed. Read more

  • Chapter 11: Wildland Fire Engines

    Firefighters stand near a wildland fire engine along a fireline.

    Wildland fire engines can be large or small depending on the operational needs. They are used to support wildfire response efforts as well as prescribed fire operations. Read more

  • Chapter 12: Learning about Fire Ecology Basics

    cross section of a tree with rings showing trees history

    Fire ecology concepts include the fire dependence of some ecosystems; fire history, or how often fires occur in a given area; and fire regime, the different roles fire plays in different ecosystems. Read more

  • Chapter 13: Wildland Fire Behavior

    stormy sky at yellowstone national park

    Fire is influenced by many factors. When more moisture is present, fire threat is reduced. A fuel’s composition determines its flammability. Weather conditions also contribute to fire behavior. Fires are classified as either natural or human-caused. A wildfire is usually started by lightning, lava, or people. A prescribed fire is ignited by humans under predetermined conditions and is carefully monitored. Prescribed fires help manage certain types of landscapes. Read more

  • Chapter 14: Wildland Fire: Cultural Interpretations of Fire and Human Use

    close up of a butterfly

    Fire has been a benevolent, mystical, and religious symbol throughout the world. Fire was associated with rebirth in mythology, and is now recognized as an instrument of change for healthy ecosystems. American Indians have always had a great respect for fire. Historically, many American Indians used fire to shape their environment and improve hunting. The cumulative effects of the thousand years of burning had profound impacts on the landscape that European settlers found. Read more

  • Chapter 15: Wildland Fire: Weather Watches & Warnings

    A Fire Weather Watch is issued when the potential for severe fire weather exists within 12-24 hours. A watch is used when there is a relatively low probability of occurrence. A Red Flag Warning is issued to indicate a relatively high probability of severe fire weather within 12 hours. The fire danger is usually high to extreme for both the watch and warming. A Red Flag Warning may or may not be preceded by a Fire Weather Watch. Read more