Using Controlled Burns and Backfiring to Fight Wildland Fires


Today I am sitting in my home and you can smell the smoke from the King Fire in Northern California.  The smoke is thick enough that the sun has a red halo around it and the amount of light it produces is reduced.  Since I have written about the dangers of wild fires, today I am going to write about how controlled burns and backfiring may help you save your home in a real emergency.

Controlled burns are normally done well before a fire, when the weather and other conditions are optimum.  The whole idea is to use small controllable fires to lessen the fuel load and prevent larger fires that are more dangerous.  The danger of controlled burns is that even large professional fire departments have lost control of them and caused damage to homes.  If you decide to use controlled burns to lessen the fuel load, make sure you have the equipment, personnel and knowledge on hand to control it.

Notice that the fireman is wearing full protective gear, which is necessary when starting backfires

Now back burning or backfiring is  done to stop a wildfire that is already in progress. Backfiring is a way of reducing the amount of flammable material by starting small fires along a manmade or natural firebreak in front of the main fire.  These small fires are started on the side of the firebreak closest to the oncoming fire.  These small fires are designed to ‘burn back towards the main fire front’ and are usually burning and traveling against ground level winds. This widens the firebreak and helps to suppress the main fire by removing the fuel.  It must be far away enough from the main fire that it creates a dead zone of consumed tinder, rather than merely adding to the larger fire.

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Now backfiring is a technique that while it is widely used by the fire service does require some expertise.  Amateurs should not attempt to set backfires, because they can be dangerous. One can spread in the wrong direction, creating a bigger problem, and the fire can also cause severe injuries.  You may want to talk with someone on your local fire department if possible to get more information.  Joining a volunteer fire department is a good source of training and experience in both fire fighting and medical care.  As with anything, knowledge is power.


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2 thoughts on “Using Controlled Burns and Backfiring to Fight Wildland Fires”

  1. Win or lose. Do or die.
    If a backfire is the only option; you will regret it later if you are the only one with brains and a match.

    years ago i watched the San Diego county fire on TV live….there was a slope burning up toward million dollar homes. It was about 10,000 acres just slowly burning against the wind. The TV network helicopter crews showed it live on TV w no fire fighters available or in sight.

    guess what: Hundreds of home lost.

    with one match a small backfire with wind at one’s back could have saved the day.

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