What is a forest fire?

A forest fire is a type of wildfire. Other types of wildfires are grass fires and hill fires.

Forest fires are very big, out of control fires that take place in forests. They are most common in summer.

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How do forest fires start?

Forest fires can start naturally but most of the time they are caused by humans. Campfires that have forgotten to be put out and people dropping lit cigarettes in the forest are two of the biggest causes.

Very drylands can become so hot during the summer that grass and leaves can set on fire naturally. The wind helps spread the fire until it becomes completely out of control, creating a forest fire.


The fire triangle

Three things are needed for a forest fire to burn. They are called the fire triangle:

Fuel: any material that can set on fire such as trees, grass or even houses.

Oxygen: found in the wind. Heavy winds help spread a fire quickly.

Heat: this is what helps spark the fire. It can be a cigarette, campfire, lightning or other.


What can firefighters do?

To stop a forest fire, firefighters need to break the fire triangle. At times, planes and helicopters are used to drop water and special chemicals over or near the fire.

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Firebreaks are one of the best ways to stop fires. Firefighters remove the fuel of a fire (trees, grass, etc) a long way ahead of where the fire is. This line is called a firebreak. When the fire reaches this line it runs out of fuel and stops spreading.

Before a forest fire starts, firefighters sometimes deliberately light small fires to remove any materials that could act as fuel for fires. This is called controlled burning.


Did you know?

  • 4 out of 5 forest fires are started by humans.
  • Sometimes the winds around a fire can spin and cause a fire tornado.
  • Fires tend to move faster uphill, they can spread quickly up the sides of mountains, hills and steep slopes.
  • More forest fires occur in times of drought when grass and plants are dry.