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Unit 9: Extreme Fire Behavior

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Terminology   ::  Tragedy Fires  ::   Predicting Behavior   ::   Safety Precautions   ::   Exercises

Fire Behavior on Tragedy Fires

Wildfires can be disastrous, all too frequently claiming the lives of firefighters or others who were unfortunate enough to be caught in their paths. We have divided this unit into three major parts: first, analyzing why such tragedies have occurred; second, giving guidelines or tools to predict where and when hazardous conditions can develop; and third, emphasizing safety precautions that should be taken on wildfires to help prevent tragedies in the future.

Through analysis, we can learn from mistakes made in the past. You will see that not all of the tragedies occurred on large fires, or on fires that exhibited extreme fire behavior. In most cases, the victims were surprised by a change in weather and an increase in fire intensity and rate of spread.

Fatalities due to wildfires :
222 people died from fire-induced injuries on 67 fires between 1926 and 1976 (50 years).
Many more died from other causes while fighting fires, i.e., vehicle and aircraft accidents, falls, falling snags, rocks, etc.

Common Denominators on Tragedy Fires

Most fatalities occurred on fires under these conditions (common denominators of fire behaior on tragedy fires):

  1. Relatively small fires or quiet sectors of larges fires.
  2. Relatively light fuels, such as grass and light brush.
  3. Unexpected wind shifts or increase in windspeed.
  4. Fire responded to terrain and ran uphill.

Examples of Fatality Fires


Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, November 10). Unit 9: Extreme Fire Behavior. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License