Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Controlled vs. Wild Fire
Name:  Danika B.
Status: student
Age: 17
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 11/6/2004


Question:
What is the difference between a controlled fire and an uncontrolled wildfire?


Replies:
Danika,

Firefighters and land management groups will have "controlled burns" also known as a controlled fire. The point of these is just to "install" firebreak lines between various sections of forest land. Picture any given plot of forest land that DID NOT have any sort of openings of trees. Quite a fire hazard, huh? I'm fairly certain that the firefighters start these controlled fires such that they will provide a natural fire break line in the event that there was a real UNCONTROLLED fire. If you separate the tree groupings from one another, you are able to at least minimize the amount of forest destruction by burning in these fire breaks. Unfortunately, there have been a number of times where these so called controlled fires end up being an uncontrolled fire.

Good question.
Darin


Danika,

A controlled fire is exactly what the term suggests, a fire that we ourselves set under controlled conditions, whereas an uncontrolled wildfire is a fire that started through some natural occurrence or some improper human activity (cigarette butts, bad camp fires, etc).

As to why the Forest Service choose to take a policy of controlled fires - the short answer is that if we prevent all fires in our forests, the trees that manage to grow are small and weak, and there is a tendency to develop brush - which ultimately is dangerous when it does inevitably catch fire. By controlling and selectively burning such bushes and small trees, we allow for the growth of stronger, bigger trees, remove potentially dangerous undergrowth and end-up with a healthier forest.

Greg (Roberto Gregorius)



Click here to return to the General Topics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory