JOHN DAY, PRAIRIE CITY & HINES, OR – (Press Release from the Malheur National Forest)
More than 73,000 wildfires burn an average of about 7 million acres of private, state and federal land in the U.S. each year. Forest Service firefighters respond to a significant number of those, either because they are burning on National Forest System land or because they are aiding another federal, tribal, state or local partner.
We need to be prepared with highly trained people, well designed tools and high performing strategies to respond safely and effectively to forest and grassland fires. Responding to fires often requires a combination of different suppression methods and strategies.
Direct Attack is a method of suppression used to build a line directly on the fire’s edge. Removing fuels from the edge of the fire will stop it from spreading. This method uses Handline constructed by fire crews or Dozerline created by bulldozers. In lighter fuels such as grass, water and/or foam can be used and followed up with Handcrews checking the edge for sources of heat.
Indirect Attack is a method of suppression in which the control line is located a considerable distance away from the fire’s active edge. This is generally done in the case of a fast-spreading or high-intensity fire and utilizes natural or constructed firebreaks or fuel breaks and favorable breaks in the topography. The intervening fuel is usually backfired; but occasionally the main fire is allowed to burn to the line, depending on conditions.
Point Protection is a wildfire response strategy which protects specific assets or highly valued resources from the wildfire without directly halting the continued spread of the wildfire. Points or zones being protected may be communities, individual structures, or areas of high resource value.
Confine/Contain is a wildfire response strategy of restricting a wildfire to a defined area, primarily using natural barriers that are expected to restrict the spread of the wildfire under the prevailing and forecasted weather conditions. Some response action may be required to augment or connect natural barriers such as line construction, burn-out or bucket drops.
Mop up is extinguishing or removing burning material near control lines, felling snags, and trenching logs to prevent rolling after an area has burned. This helps to make a fire safe or to reduce residual smoke. It is done on lines under all circumstances where it is safe to do so. Mop up is done to a distance determined by an experienced firefighter based on terrain, fuels, safety and probability that the fire will remain in its current footprint under normal forecasted weather events.
Fire crews will use a combination of these suppression methods and strategies in the process of fighting wildland fires. Being aware of the strategies and methods as well as the application is a necessity for firefighters not only to fight the fire but to stay safe while doing so.