Exhibits: Nature: Wildfire
Fighting Fire in the I-Zone
During the last half of the 20th century, people began moving in great numbers from cities to the suburbs and then into America's rural areas. These urbanites wanted to live in unspoiled scenic areas, near the public lands where they could hike, bike and picnic. The result was that more and more people lived in areas of fire-prone brush, forest, or grassland, creating what is called the wildland-urban interface, or the I-Zone.
The I-Zone occurs in three different configurations.
I-Zone fires tend to be more damaging than urban fires and are more difficult to control. Firefighters give priority to saving people and structures, so I-Zone fires can be especially devastating for the natural surroundings. I-Zone fires are also complicated by the fact that fires in homes and buildings are fought very differently from wildland fires. Structural fires are fought with water, available from fire hydrants in populated areas, to stop fires as soon as possible. Wildland fires are attacked from the perimeter, and firefighting strategies focus on preventing its spread.
Firefighters cannot do their work alone. Everyone who uses the outdoors must be aware of existing fire conditions, be cautious with campfires and equipment such as chainsaws or vehicles. A recent fire in New Mexico, which caused a whole town to evacuate, was started by an malfunctioning ATV. Homeowners can also help firefighters by using FireWise techniques around their property. The FireWise web site (see below) provides valuable information on fire-resistant construction material and fire-defensive landscaping
Wildfires are a fact of life: they always have and probably always will occur in most ecosystems. As our population expands into the countryside, the I-Zone grows. As the I-Zone grows, so does the threat wildfires pose to people and the threat people and their fires pose to wildlands. A century of fire suppression has altered many of our forests and increased the danger of high intensity wildfires. Invasive weeds on western rangelands have crowded out native grasses and created conditions for devastating wildfires.
Managing wildland fires is a daunting task. To effectively do so, we must understand the important role that wildland fires in nature, and we must also integrate natural fires with human needs. One of the most effective tools in modern fire management is prescribed burning. We have come full circle, recognizing that intentional burns are a major key to ecosystem restoration.
? burning uses fire to prevent fire. The controlled burns get rid of dead and downed wood, weeds, and other fuel loads which have accumulated over many years of fire suppression. These small fires are set under highly regulated conditions and are allowed to burn within a planned geographic area. Unfortunately, while prescribed burning is an effective tool away from civilization, it becomes less so in the I-Zone where the proximity of houses and dense vegetation make fire control all but mpossible.
Fire management does not stop after the fire is out. Landscape rehabilitation and restoration projects are important to communities as well as to ecosystems. Short-term rehabilitation projects help prevent further damage to ecosystems and communities as a result of fire. Long-term restoration projects help improve land unlikely to recover naturally from fire, prevent invasions of noxious weeds and exotic species, and reduce disease and bug infestations.
This exhibit is sponsored by the National Interagency Fire Center.
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