Forest Wildfires: How They're Started and What Makes Them So Dangerous

Forest fires are a common occurrence in Arizona, with the state seeing an average of over 2,200 wildfires every year. While some of these are started naturally by lightning or wind, most are caused by humans. There are many different ways that humans can inadvertently start forest fires, and they can be very dangerous when they do. In Arizona, over 60% of all wildfires are caused by humans. The combination of high temperatures and intense flames can result in the loss of homes, businesses, and even lives. While many of these fires are small and easily contained, some grow into large, dangerous blazes.

There are many things that can make a forest fire so dangerous. The combination of high temperatures, dry air, and strong winds can create "firestorms" that can quickly spread the flames through the forest. The intense heat from the fire can also cause trees to explode, sending burning embers flying in all directions. These embers can start new fires, making the situation even worse. In addition, wildfires produce large amounts of smoke and ash which can reduce visibility and lead to respiratory problems for people living near the blaze.

The Arizona Department of Forestry is responsible for protecting Arizona's forests against wildfire threats as well as controlling them once they have started so that damage is minimized. Firefighters work hard during peak times of wildfire threat - often under dangerous conditions - in order to keep Arizona's forests safe. Arizona has seen huge fires in recent years, including the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013 which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters and resulted in over $12 million worth of damage. In 2018, a fire along Highway 87 from Payson to Sunflower also caused a lot of destruction. Arizona is also at risk for wildfires started across state borders such as those recently experienced due to California wildfires extending into Arizona territory and causing significant damage.

Wildfires can cause a lot of damage and loss, but there are ways to help prevent them. Some simple tips include never leaving campfires or cigarettes unattended, making sure vehicles are parked properly so as not to start fires with their hot exhaust pipes, and being careful when using power tools in the forest. Arizona is fortunate to have many highly-skilled firefighters who work hard every day to protect our forests against wildfire threats. By following some simple safety guidelines and being aware of the dangers of wildfires, we can all do our part in preventing these destructive blazes from happening.

For more information on Arizona wildfires, please visit the links below:

Arizona Department of Forestry

Arizona Division of Emergency Management:


Authors Bio:

My name is Fred Schoeffler, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1955. Throughout my career of 34 years, I was a Forestry Aid, then a Lead Forestry Technician, and then finally a Supervisory Forestry Technician, and spent the following 28 years (1981-2007) as the Payson Hotshot (HS) Crew Superintendent. I also worked a few months on the Oak Grove HS (1973), where we were required to learn the Fire Orders, Watch Outs, Downhill Checklist, and the Common Denominators of Fatal and Near-Fatal Fires by heart.

Our Project 10 & 18 United LLC strives to be a valuable resource for Wildland Firefighters (WFs) and Firefighters (FFs) engaged in wildland firefighting, who want to learn from both the positive and negative experiences of others. To offer future prospects the value of learning from highly experienced WFs and FFs to provide the next generation with well-learned leadership lessons and skills, wildland fire weather and fire behavior, safe practices, proper and truthful accident investigations, and other aspects of wildland fire management, inspiring younger WFs and FFs to excel in this inherently dangerous, noble, and rewarding vocation.

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