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 Exhibits: Nature: Wildfire


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    Fighting Fire in the I-Zone
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Fighting fire in the Ashley National Forest

Fighting fire in the Ashley National Forest

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.

  • Urban spread, where neighborhoods come into direct contact with wildlands.
  • Summer homes and isolated cabins, located near public lands or other undeveloped areas
  • Islands of wild lands within urban areas, such as large parks or forests

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Firefighter's Air Operations Center in Safford, Arizona

Firefighter's Air Operations Center in Safford, Arizona

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

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    Fire Management
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A helicopter ferries water to a prescribed burn in Wyoming.

A helicopter ferries water to a prescribed burn in Wyoming.

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.

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Prescribed burn near Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Prescribed burn near Rock Springs, Wyoming.

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? 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.

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A meadow blooms with lupine after a wildfire

A meadow blooms with lupine after a wildfire

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.

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On August 17, Team South toured the Rodeo-Chediski wildfire site in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Browse the journals and dispatches for more information.

Links for more information

  Part One--

This exhibit is sponsored by the National Interagency Fire Center.

  Share your thoughts and comments on this topic at the AF.net forum--


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