How the United States Forest Service Fights Forest Fires

US Forest Service fighting a fire

In 1881, the Division of Forestry was formed. It changed names several times, eventually becoming the United States Forest Service (USFS) in 1905. One of the primary functions of the USFS is fighting fires. In fact, nearly half of their budget is spent fighting fires.

But how do they do it? How do they stop those giant fires we see on TV?

The best way to fight a fire is to prevent it. The USFS can’t travel back in time to warn themselves, a la Days of Future Past; but they do have Smokey the Bear.

Smokey was created in 1944 to educate the public about how dangerous forest fires are. His most famous slogan, “Remember… Only YOU can prevent forest firest” was created in 1947. Smokey encourages people to be careful with fire and to avoid activities that might start a fire that’s out of control.

Prevention is the best strategy, but sometimes accidents happen, such as lightning strikes or an errant match. There are many ways that forest fires start, and the USFS is prepared to handle any challenge.

The US Forest Service has always fought fires, but their methods have changed over the years. Initially they fought them by hand and later with airplanes and other machinery.

When fighting fires, it’s important to remember the three components or needs for a fire: a heat source, fuel, and oxygen. If a firefighter can eliminate one of these three components, the fire will die. There are other factors to consider, such as wind, but these are the most important areas.

Often, the first step in stopping an out-of-control fire is to control the fire, often by creating a fireline. A fireline is a controlled burn around the wildfire, effectively eliminating the fuel source. Many times, a natural barrier (such as a river) can be used to control the fire.

Another tactic is pretty obvious—water. Firefighters use water to stop fires (surprise!). The water may come from a hydrant or other water source, but often it is brought in via tanker or helibucket.

Firefighters use heavy duty fire hoses to channel the water toward the fires. The USFS gets these fire hoses from NewView Oklahoma, who offers several varieties of hoses.

Firefights also sometimes use suppressant foams to control or stop the wildfire. There are many positives to using foams, but water is usually much more available in the case of a forest fire.

Who fights these fires might surprise you. Most of them are called upon when they are needed and have other primary roles other than firefighting.

The USFS utilized many people of varying skills sets, including firefighters, fuels specialists, administrative people, pilots, dispatchers, and more. All of these roles combine to achieve one goal—effectively and efficiently control fires.

This is an important distinction. The USFS sometimes uses fires to help the land and protect the community. They don’t want to eliminated fires completely; they want to control fires correctly.

It’s great to know how the USFS fights fires, but again, the most important thing to remember is that prevention is the best strategy. The USFS offers a lot of helpful resources to learn about fire prevention and fire safety.

Read up because…

Smokey the Bear


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