Basic wildland class prepares local firefighters

Basic wildland class prepares local firefighters

17 April 2013

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USA — Firefighters from Plains, Paradise, Thompson Falls and Hot Springs gathered at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation facility in Plains on Saturday to take a class on basic wildland firefighting techniques.

About 30 men and women were on hand to learn methods they may need soon with the fire season rapidly approaching. The class, taught by Calvin Minemyer and Marlin Cooper, included a PowerPoint presentation and a video on the proper way to use a fire shelter. Participants sat through about three hours of classroom work before taking a test for their certification.

The class began with identifying parts of a fire. The ability to identify the origin, left and right flanks and the head of a fire is key to a containment and control strategy. Following the fundamentals of types of heat transfer such as radiation, convection and conduction, the class reviewed the elements that allow for fire: fuel, oxygen and heat.

The bulk of the discussion involved how to predict the behavior of a wildfire accounting for weather, fuel types and topography.

Common fuels include grasses, trees and buildings. Within a wooded area, firefighters are likely to encounter some or all types of fuels. Instructors included slides that indicated the different types of combustibles that can be available inside a very small area. Fire can climb and strengthen, having started within smaller fuels, rising higher and higher into the upper reaches of the forest.

According to the instructors of the class, weather plays a key role in fire behavior. Air temperature, humidity and precipitation can greatly affect the dynamics of a fire.

Wind speed and direction is another element of weather that can reduce or increase the intensity of a fire. Wind feeds oxygen into a fire and depending on the topography, can either change the direction of a fire or the speed at which the fire moves.

The last aspect of weather taught to the class involved the difference between an unstable and stable atmosphere. An unstable atmosphere with good visibility and well-formed cumulus clouds can create an unpredictable fire. A stable atmosphere with windy and foggy conditions can allow firefighters to more easily predict the behavior of a fire.

Beyond fuel types and weather, the last basic element affecting fire behavior is topography. Topography, the study of the shape and features of the Earths’ surface, can greatly influence how a fire will behave. The degree of a slope or the steepness of a canyon can determine how firefighters will deal with an incident.

The class concluded with a list of “watch out” events, which are situations that are cause for alarm during a wildfire and a video about how to properly deploy an emergency shelter. The video included indentifying the conditions that would call for usage, proper deployment procedure and how to escape to a safe place to set up a shelter.

Minemyer said, “the class went very well. We had a good group of folks from the area take part.”

The class was a standard part of basic wildland firefighting education for regional departments.

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