Fighting Wildfire in the South
Personnel and Equipment
Wildland firefighters, also known as Rangers, are professionally trained to National Fire Industry Competencies. Newly hired Rangers receive basic training in firefighting operations with particular emphasis to safety and survival, firefighting techniques, fire behavior, weather, environmental care principles, and use and care of firefighting equipment. Skills are developed and maintained through field exercises, lectures, and training alongside more experienced personnel.
Fire suppression equipment includes tractor crawler plows, pickup trucks equipped with water tanks, single-engine aircrafts and helicopters, and various hand tools and specialty equipment.
Wildfires are always suppressed when threatening human life and property. The strategic location of firefighting resources is essential for effective initial wildfire control efforts. Using the Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment results, southern fire managers can identify areas where emergency response resources, such as bulldozers or tractor plows, may need to be relocated to provide responses that are quicker and better equipped for fighting wildfires.
Most wildfires in the South are handled by one or two Rangers and a tractor-plow unit. The tractor-plow unit is driven to the fire site on a flat-bed trailer, or transport, and used to plow firebreaks around the fire. A firebreak is a plowed ‘road’ of mineral soil, approximately 4–5 feet wide. For a fire to burn it must have three elements - fuel, heat, and oxygen. Firebreaks separate fire from additional fuel.
Once firebreaks surround the wildfire, the Ranger(s) will minimize the possibility of fire spotting, or jumping, across a firebreak by progressively extinguishing any and all burning materials around the immediate edges of the fire perimeter. This procedure is known as mopping up and involves the use of hand tools and water to insure fire control.
If a wildfire grows in size, intensity, or complexity the Incident Command
System is expanded as needed for additional crews and resources.
Tools and Technology
State of the art tools and technology are employed to help southern fire managers fight wildfires. Fire weather information from National Weather Service Fire Weather helps managers predict fire danger and behavior (National Fire Danger map). Google Earth helps identify locations of wildfire activity (Google Earth and wildfire activity (TFS)).
Natural resource agencies are being called upon to provide solutions to increasingly complex challenges at the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Communities are growing rapidly, landowners’ management goals often conflict, residents may not understand the benefits of resource management, and the resulting risks to environmental quality and human quality of life are becoming more apparent. To help meet these needs, the Southern Group of State Foresters led a partnership with the USDA Forest Service, InterfaceSouth, the University of Florida, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop Changing Roles: WUI Professional Development Program.
This program provides state and federal natural resource agencies with a set of flexible resources to conduct their own training programs, aimed toward building skills and tools to successfully tackle WUI issues.
The National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) is the focal point for coordinating the mobilization of resources for wildland fire and other incidents throughout the United States. Located in Boise, Idaho, the NICC also provides Intelligence and Predictive Services related-products designed to be used by the internal wildland fire community for wildland fire and incident management decision-making.
The National Interagency Fire Center serves as the Nation's primary wildfire support center and was created to reduce the duplication of services, cut costs, and coordinate national fire planning and operations.
Southern Area Coordination Center (SACC) is the focal point for mobilizing resources such as aircraft, crews, equipment, and personnel within the Southeastern U.S. (as well as to other parts of the country), in support of wildland fires and emergency/disaster relief efforts. Located in Atlanta, GA, the Center is one of 11 Geographic Area Coordination Centers throughout the United States that work in concert with the National Interagency Coordination Center. In addition to resource mobilization, SACC's other main role is providing Intelligence and Predictive Services products to support wildland fire managers and firefighters in the decision making process.
The U.S. Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management Program works to advance technologies in fire management and suppression, maintain and improve the mobilization and tracking systems in place, and support Federal, State, and International fire partners.