Fighting Wildfires

How do Firefighters Battle the Flames?


All wildland firefighters follow the same motto: protect lives, houses, and property, while ensuring safety for everyone involved.

It may look simple, but fighting a wildfire is dangerous and complex. All wildland firefighters follow the same motto: protect lives, houses, and property, while ensuring safety for everyone involved.

  • Go to The Incident Command System to learn how firefighters organize and plan for wildfire management.
  • Fire Management Strategies and Tactics describes methods used to control wildland fires, including prescribed burning.

Not all fire is bad. Learn about the positive and negative effects of fire in Wildfire and Idaho Landscapes.

How big is it?

This helps firefighters determine how many resources they need to order. The bigger the fire, the more firefighting resources are needed.

What is the strategy/plan of attack?

Firefighters immediately assess the situation to figure out how they can best attack the fire, while still keeping firefighters safe. This is usually done by establishing a “control line,” which is a line around the fire that keeps it from spreading. This can be done by starting at an “anchor point,” and using firefighting equipment to extinguish fire along an established line.

Firefighters start with an anchor point, which is usually the coldest part of the fire. Using an anchor point ensures that there is a safe barrier between the fire and any unburned vegetation that could ignite and trap firefighters.

What is burning?

If the fire is burning in sagebrush, it may require a different plan of attack than a fire burning in ponderosa pine trees. Different vegetation requires different attack strategies due to its size, thickness, and dryness.

What is a fireline?

Firefighters can clear a line of dirt down to bare mineral soil using shovels or bull dozers, which in turn stops the fire when it reaches the line because dirt doesn’t burn. Sometimes, especially when it’s windy, wildfires will jump firelines, and then firefighters have to move to another location and start building a fireline all over again. Firefighters can use natural barriers, such as creeks or other bodies of water and rock outcrops. Firefighters often use roads as firelines too.

What is nearby?

Are there houses? Other buildings? Natural resources? In order to safely put out the fire, firefighters must ensure that no people are nearby, along with animals, such as livestock and pets. They must determine if there are other buildings or structures that could burn nearby. This allows firefighters to decide their plan of attack, and where they need to focus firefighting resources in order to save lives, homes, personal property, and valuable natural resources.

What next?

After firefighters have established a fireline, they must ensure that it will contain the fire and not allow it to spread. Firefighters must locate hotspots near the fireline where vegetation is still burning and extinguish them. This keeps wind from reigniting the fire.

Firefighting Equipment; Tools of the Trade

Firefighters use a variety of equipment to extinguish fire, depending on where the fire is burning, and what type of vegetation it’s burning in. Let’s look at some of the tools firefighters use: