Learning the key terms used during fire season

MEDFORD, Ore. — Fire season is, no doubt, a hectic time.

Flames can spark within a matter of seconds and sometimes evacuation notices are quick to follow.

“Firefighters will utilize terms… that’s really the best way for them to describe what is going on,” said Austin Prince, Division Chief for Rural Metro Fire.

Burnouts, containment lines, spotting, we hear the same words every fire season.

“And those terms are sometimes slightly scientific in ways that don’t necessarily mean something to the general public,” he said.

Prince says you’ll often hear about lines or barriers put around a fire.

“Sometimes it could just be retardant or water that’s being dropped from an aircraft being dropped on vegetation,” he said. “That is kind of like where they’re going to hopefully be able to slow the fire down.”

Whether the lines are created from a bulldozer or firefighters using their hands, they help slow or stop the spread of flames.

However, how flames react to a particular environment, also known as the fire’s “behavior,” can be difficult to predict.

“[Some factors are] the humidity levels that are very low, just the time of year after everything has had sun on it for so long it gets seasoned,” Prince said.

Sometimes, firefighters say embers can shoot out from a fire and cause “spot fires.”

“It could just be a few feet out in front of the fire as it moves. It could be up to a half a mile or in some cases a mile,” he said.

Depending on where they occur, spot fires can put a home or structure at risk. That’s where “burnouts” or “back burns” may come in handy.

“You might hear the term fight fire with fire,” said Fire Captain Scott Downing, Fire District 3.

Firefighters create “black” or burned out areas where all the fuels are burned on the ground.

“There’s nothing left to burn and the fire kind of dies down or will go around that black area that we’ve created,” he said.

Once the fire is contained, it’s time for “mop-up”

“[We can’t] just spray some water over them and move on,” said Prince. “Cause those things can come back, so we have to get in there and truly make sure… cold, wet, black, doesn’t re-ignite after we leave and that is considered a full mop-up area.”

For more terms and definitions, click here.

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