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Walking on Fire: Part One
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Walking on Fire: Part One on 05/19/2009 16:49:36 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Walking on Fire: Part One

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Walking on Fire: Part One on 05/20/2009 00:45:43 MDT Print View

Wow, this one's sure to generate some discussion!

My home state of Idaho has it's share of wildland fires, and with large areas of designated wilderness and roadless areas, the premises in this article are very real here.

Despite having never been a firefighter myself, I have made a point of educating myself on the topic through independent study. I have studied fire both out of curiosity and concern for my own safety when out recreating in the backcountry.

With all due respect to the author and editors, I believe that a prequel might be in order for the more casual hiker. Where's the description of different agencies' current wildland fire policy? Does everyone know that fire management policy has shifted to allowing for "wildland fire use" for many areas - meaning that some fires are not suppressed? How about some discussion about the first line of defense being the avoidance of areas with active fires and fire complexes, as well as the avoidance of fire prone and/or heavy fuel areas during the peak of fire season?

For example, I won't be found hiking in parts of the Sawtooth National Forest where there is extensive beatle kill during August, particularly when dry thunderstorms are forecast. This is in large part because rugged terrain, limited agency resources, land management objectives, and the concentration on structure protection will mean that most of a fire could burn unchecked. And those limited resources do not need to concentrate on searching for me in the event of a fire, although some discussion on signaling and being found would also be useful in this context.

A number of information sources are available to provide beta on fires and fire conditions. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has a website that makes available their daily briefings, weather reports, red-flag warnings, mapping tools, etc. Very useful data in assessing (and avoiding) the conditions this article discusses.

Edited by jbrinkmanboi on 05/20/2009 00:46:56 MDT.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Walking on Fire: Part One on 05/20/2009 01:09:39 MDT Print View

Now for some more technical questions:

1. How fast can fire move anyway? Can I outrun it? How far is the fire capable of spotting ahead of itself? What should I fear most - the heat, smoke, or flame?

2. How does the amateur assess probable temperature "in the black"? While you state that crossing into the black may be prudent, I have little confidence in knowing when the black is safe. I guess I have to assess remaining fuel conditions first (assuming I have a vantage point to see them)?

3. How can the amateur judge when the backing heal or active flank is cool enough to cross? Just because the fire has "laid down" for the night, at what point is it cool enough to cross into the black without searing the lungs, burning the skin, melting my polyester pants (sorry, I don't usually wear Nomex!), etc.?

4. If I find myself at the head of a fire, what can I do? Do I need to attempt to flank it? Should I cross the ridge ahead of me first? Assess terrain traps? Find a lake?

5. When if ever should someone light a backfire to burn out a safe zone? Where? Will the land management agency send me a bill? Will local law enforcement arrest me? Why else is this a bad idea for the amateur?

6. I have to assume that the average hotshot or smokejumper has a lot of information fed to them on the radio, or that they can observe it with equipment that the average hiker would not have. For example, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, temperature, forecast data, lookout reports, briefings, etc. Can a hiker who comes upon a fire really gather enough data to make an accurate assessment of the conditions in order to employ the tactics you suggest?

Maybe I should just hold tight for next week's installment - Escape and Evasion?

Edited by jbrinkmanboi on 05/20/2009 01:25:32 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Walking on Fire: Part One on 05/20/2009 04:53:52 MDT Print View

From Australian fire-fighting experiences:

> 1. How fast can fire move anyway? Can I outrun it?
Not when there are 100 kph winds driving it.

> How far is the fire capable of spotting ahead of itself?
Several kilometers.

> What should I fear most - the heat, smoke, or flame?
Usually smoke. If you do get caught you will die from the smoke first.

The best steps to take are very long ones, usually sideways, but downhill into water is also good. Better is to not be there.


Bruce Bowden
(kerouac) - F
Re: Walking on Fire on 05/20/2009 14:35:23 MDT Print View

Looks like a great article with more to come. Can we get this as a PDF file ? It doesn't seem to format for printing
very well......i.e. it gets cut off by my printer
on the right by several words........thanks !

Kathleen B

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Walking on Fire: Part One on 05/20/2009 15:10:58 MDT Print View

Bruce - with the article up on your screen, at the top of the computer screen, click on the word "file." Then click on "page setup." Then click on "landscape." Then print. At least it works for me.

Bruce Bowden
(kerouac) - F
Walking with Fire: printing on 05/21/2009 15:07:43 MDT Print View

Thanks Kathleen

I forgot about landscape print mode......worked great !

Andrew Mattox
(Pawprint) - F
Author commentary on 05/26/2009 09:34:13 MDT Print View

Jason, you're right that there could be an article itself devoted to firefighting agencies, policy, etc. If we were to add in subcultures & different approaches they take to fire, it could be the subject of book.

As the author, I focused on the acute of coming across a fire unexpectedly because of the daunting extent of the subject, and the better availability of information on agencies, policies etc. NFIC is a good source of info, for sure:

Now on to the questions-

Andrew Mattox
(Pawprint) - F
Author Commentary on 05/26/2009 09:40:22 MDT Print View

One of most difficult parts of writing about fire behavior is that it's so variable... it's really an ongoing study. My hope with the article is really to give the reader a boost on inquiry and observation, not a finished toolset.

Developing that toolset is addressed in part III, whereas part II focuses more on specific tactics.

1. How fast can a fire move? As Roger points out, speed is highly variable, depending on wind, fuels, and terrain. In fine fuels on a steep slope, or in any fuels driven by a very high wind, fire has the potential to overtake anyone running - but in most conditions, on moderate terrain and in timber, it will not do so.

Andrew Mattox
(Pawprint) - F
Author Commentary on 05/26/2009 09:52:13 MDT Print View

2. & 3.: Assessing Temperature of the Edge & the Black: this is part common sense, part intuition/experience, and part sensory. As a conservative rule, an taking into account non-firefighter equipment, I'd say: if you can step or hop over the flaming edge without being concerned about injury, it's cool enough to cross.

Radiant heat flux will help in identifying how hot the black itself is: if you get near the black with a low, non-threatening fire edge, but feel massive radiant heat, that indicates the black probably devastatingly hot.

Intuition and common sense really help here: if it looks or feels like a place you don't want to be, then that instinct should as a default be trusted. Our bodies are pretty good at burn avoidance.

Andrew Mattox
(Pawprint) - F
Author Commentary on 05/26/2009 09:59:07 MDT Print View

4. Escape and Evasion should start answering this for you.

5. Lighting an Escape Fire: There's an article appendix that will cover this. In brief: An escape fire can be highly effective but is also very advanced and potentially fatal. This is one to talk with local firefighters about, if you're interested. I wouldn't recommend to a non-professional in anything but the uttermost desperation. Even for an experienced firefighter, without special equipment, the "game" is mostly about fire avoidance.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Walking on Fire: Part One on 06/15/2013 09:48:34 MDT Print View

Bumping this excellent article. It's fire season. Be careful and aware everyone. Play safe!

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Re: Walking on Fire: Part One on 06/15/2013 13:28:52 MDT Print View

Thanks for bumping that Ken as I missed it first time round.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Timely topic! on 06/15/2013 16:55:12 MDT Print View

Another gem from the BPL Archives that I missed.

Thanks, Ken, for bumping this up!

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Walking on Fire: Part One on 08/16/2015 15:55:54 MDT Print View

Bumping this excellent article. It's fire season. Be careful and aware everyone. Play safe!

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Walking on Fire: Part One on 08/16/2015 16:58:34 MDT Print View

The Rocky fire in Lake County just scorched the Cache Creek wilderness, I've backpacked there at least 10 times because it's so close. Bummed out here, but the wildflowers next spring should be amazing.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Walking on Fire: Part One on 08/16/2015 17:20:50 MDT Print View

just read that (again?), thanks for bumping that

hopefully, I won't be using the information soon. Lots of useful stuff there.