A forestfire is any uncontrolled fire in combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Other names such as brush fire, bushfire, forest fire, grass fire, hill fire, peat fire, vegetation fire, veldfire, and wildland fire may be used to describe the same phenomenon depending on the type of vegetation being burned. A wildfire differs from other fires by its extensive size, the speed at which it can spread out from its original source, its potential to change direction unexpectedly, and its ability to jump gaps such as roads, rivers and fire breaks. Forest fires are characterized in terms of the cause of ignition, their physical properties such as speed of propagation, the combustible material present, and the effect of weather on the fire. Forest fires can cause extensive damage, both to property and human life, but they also have various beneficial effects on wilderness areas. Some plant species depend on the effects of fire for growth and reproduction, although large forest fires may also have negative ecological effects. Strategies of wildfire prevention, detection, and suppression have varied over the years, and international wildfire management experts encourage further development of technology and research. One of the more controversial techniques is controlled burning: permitting or even igniting smaller fires to minimize the amount of flammable material available for a potential wildfire. While some forest fires burn in remote forested regions, they can cause extensive destruction of homes and other property located in the wildland-urban interface: a zone of transition between developed areas and undeveloped wilderness. Characteristics
The four major natural causes of wildfire ignitions are lightning, volcanic eruption, sparks from rockfalls, and spontaneous combustion. The thousands of coal seam fires that are burning around the world, such as those in Centralia, Burning Mountain, and several coal-sustained fires in China, can also flare up and ignite nearby flammable material. However, many forest fires are attributed to human sources such as arson, discarded cigarettes, sparks from equipment, and power line arcs (as detected by arc mapping). In societies experiencing shifting cultivation where land is cleared quickly and farmed until the soil loses fertility, slash and burn clearing is often considered the least expensive way to prepare land for future use. Forested areas cleared by logging encourage the dominance of flammable grasses, and abandoned logging roads overgrown by vegetation may act as fire corridors. Annual grassland fires in Southern Vietnam can be attributed in part to the destruction of forested areas by herbicides, explosives, and mechanical land clearing and burning operations during the Vietnam War. The most common cause of forest fires varies throughout the world. In the United States, Canada, and Northwest China, for example, lightning is the major source of ignition. In other parts of the world, human involvement is a major contributor. In Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Fiji, and New Zealand, forest fires can be attributed to human activities such as animal husbandry, agriculture, and land-conversion burning. Human carelessness is a major cause of forest fires in China and in the Mediterranean Basin. In Australia, the source of forest fires can be traced to both lightning strikes and human activities such as machinery sparks and cast-away cigarette butts. Fuel type
The spread of forest fires varies based on the flammable material present and its vertical arrangement. For example, fuels uphill from a fire are more readily dried and warmed by the fire than those downhill, yet burning logs can roll downhill from the fire to ignite other fuels. Fuel arrangement and density is governed in part by topography, as land shape determines factors such as...
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