Wildland Firefighting in Forests

Introduction to Fighting Forest Fires

Bitterroot Fire. Photo: John McColgan/Alaska Fire Service/Bureau of Land Management

Fighting uncontrolled wildland fire is extremely complex and potentially very dangerous. The complexities of forest fire fighting exist on both a biological and political level. Understanding how fires are fought, how fires are managed and the usefulness of fire in the wild is critical to dealing with wildfire.


The very foundation of fire ecology is the premise that wildland fire is neither innately destructive nor in the best interest of every forest.

Fire causes change and change has its own value. Certain forest biomes benefit more than others.

The Fire Fighter

The United States Forest Service provides a great site called Firefighter Employment. This is a very good introductory site that depicts a firefighter's job. Initial jobs in the business will mainly be as part of a group working with an engine pumper unit or fire plow crew, being used on a hand crew, smoke jumping from an aircraft onto a fire, or as part of a helicopter crew. It is extremely hard work and subject to military discipline - not for everyone.

In reality, many more firefighters volunteer their services than get paid. Every state in the United States has hundreds of rural volunteer fire departments. If it were not for the fire fighting volunteer, thousands of acres and millions of dollars would be lost to out of control fires each season.

Forest Fire Fighting Command System Connecting both government and volunteer crews is a support center.

The Incident Command Post, guided by the Incident Command System (ICS) and its commander, usually assists the fire crews by running communications, directing ground and air support, and supplying equipment and parts. ICS is also used by many other agencies and a system for responding to a wide range of emergencies, including fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, tidal waves, riots, spilling of hazardous materials, and other natural or human-caused incidents.

ICS is also a clearing house for fire news. The public has a keen interest in keeping up with major fires. That information is generated by what is collected and distributed at the Incident Command Post.

A fire situation report is prepared at the post. It is updated several times a day where the media can immediately draw guided conclusions and get the word out. In addition to reports, a fire danger map, detailed by the USFS and always up to date, is posted on the Internet. This map shows areas where fire is a problem and locates significant fires in real time.