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Useful Notes / Wildland Firefighting

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Only you can prevent forest fires.

The large areas of untamed and semi-tamed wilderness in the United States are prone to wildfire every year, particularly in the summer when wood, brush, and grass are dry. As a result great efforts are spent in controlling blazes. While of late doctrine has changed from a realization that fire is a part of the ecology, at the least fires have to be watched. If they get out of control thousands of professional and volunteer firefighters have to be raised in what have been compared to military operations. As these operations take place every year, wildfire has become its own subculture.

The composition of a fire camp varies depending on what state/country you're in, and in many places resembles less a regular military structure than a feudal levy, being drawn from a hodgepodge of traditional contributors rather than a scientifically organized and trained permanent force, though this also varies. Personnel come from a variety of sources. Some are contributed by Federal and State agencies or by interested corporations like timber companies, and the effort tends to be supervised by the National Interagency Fire Center at its headquarters in Boise. Also notable are small settlements like towns and American Indian tribes that have a tradition of contributing young men for the fire service every year; Proud Firefighter Races if you will. National Guardsmen and occasionally regular military personnel take part and there has been profitable feedback between the methods and traditions of the two occupations. Convicts deemed to pose low risk of escape may volunteer themselves for firefighting efforts under the supervision of correctional officers. And of course when a fire gets to near a town, the local fire department and other emergency services will join. There are a number of specialties, famous among them are the smoke jumpers, which during World War II were manned largely by conscientious objectors desiring to prove that their refusal was not because of lack of courage. Another specialty is manning the lookout towers that dot the west. Satellites are now expected to make these obsolete (though it hasn't happened yet), and tightening budgets have closed most of them down. Though the few that still operate are still a very valuable resource, most of them have been relegated to picturesque historical relics. Commanders of the project were once called "fire bosses" but are now referred to as "Incident Commanders".note 

In California, for example, there will be extensive involvement from federal agencies (mostly the US Forest Service and/or Bureau of Land Management; the National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Department of Defense may be involved if the fire threatens their land), the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (while most states have some kind of State Forestry, California's is actually a full-fledged state fire department), various county and municipal fire departments, with private contractors providing various logistical support services. Jurisdiction Friction happens occasionally, but is the exception rather than the rule: personnel on the fireline carry out the IC's plan, bean counters can figure out who pays for it later. Local government fire resources are sent all over the state, sometimes hundreds of miles from their home jurisdictions, as part of California's extensive "automatic aid" program. Strike Teams of five fire engines each are a common sight on freeways and highways in the summer.

Cross the Oregon state line, for example, and things change dramatically. The state and Feds are still involved, but local fire departments are rarely seen unless the fire threatens their own jurisdiction. Private contractors take a far more active role on the fireline.

In addition to regular fire suppression, tactics used in wildfire fighting may sometimes involve corraling the fire into a manageable area until it starves itself of fuel, or is drenched out by weather. This involves careful use of terrain—and often deliberate destruction of fuel, often ironically by deliberately setting controlled blazes. Fire is an integral component of the natural ecosystem, so fires are often "managed" rather than suppressed outright. Areas where excessive local fire danger makes fire management too hazardous during Fire Season will usually see "prescribed burns" performed in late winter or early spring to clear dead vegetation and allow new seeding and growth.

Wildfires have their own specialized equipment, notable among them is the Pulaski, a multipurpose fireaxe which is something of a Subcultural Weapon.

Other countries prone to massive wildfires have similar traditions. Notable among these are Australia and Russia.