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Part 1: Understanding Fire Behavior in the Wildland/Urban Interface

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Fire Behavior
The Fire Behavior video attempts to leave this thought: "What I learn about fire behavior will help me fight my next interface fire better, and could even save my life."

Firefighters viewing this video are probably very knowledgeable about their own type of fire organization. Wildland firefighters will be skilled in how to contain a blaze occurring in vegetation. Structural firefighters will know how to size up and extinguish fire in a home or building. But fires in the wildland/urban interface go beyond these standard skills.

This video focuses on the disastrous wildland/urban interface fire characteristics that include the following: extreme fire behavior; multiple ignitions; entire neighborhoods involved; a mixture of natural fuels and human-made fuels that possibly include hazardous materials, and emotional and demanding occupants. This situation requires a new and better understanding of fire behavior.

As a first step every firefighter, whether wildland or structural, will need to understand the importance differences in these two types of fire protection approaches. Despite the differences, large fires in the wildland/urban interface will require these different types of agencies to effectively work together.

Specific fires will present unique situations with factors that will have to be understood and dealt with by both types of firefighters at the same time. It is an oversimplification that we consider only three main aspects of fire behavior, but almost everything that happens at the fire results from the interaction of fuel, weather, and topography.


The video above presents the fictional community of West Creek Village as it becomes threatened by a wildland fire starting some distance away in a rolling meadow. West Creek has about 30 homes nestled at the base of a small canyon, with some homes intermixed in the wildlands. Recent high temperatures, low rainfall, and current low humidity conditions have dried out the grass, shrub, and forest areas in and around West Creek. The fire starts in a distant meadow and rapidly moves into a forested area near the community. The rapid fire growth due to the meadow and the extreme fire conditions produced by the forest fuels has overwhelmed the initial and continued fire suppression response.

Something is causing the fire to spread relentlessly through the forest and down the canyon wall straight toward West Creek. It's the wind, making the situation worse by gusting up to 30 miles per hour and in a steady direction, putting West Creek in the fire's path.

It is clear that the West Creek fire cannot be contained or even slowed by conventional wildland firefighting methods before it reaches the West Creek residential area. The intensity of the fire and the location of the homes adjacent to and intermixed with the vegetation fuels leads firefighters to the conclusion that they cannot stop the wildland fire, but they can probably save most homes. So the important question becomes, which homes can be saved?