The United States sees approximately 70,000 wildfires every year. Not all wildfires have similar fire patterns or belong to the same category. In this article, we will explore the different types of wildfires. 

The five main types of wildfires include surface fires, crown fires, ground fires, spot fires, and grass fires. 

To learn more about these, please continue reading. 

What Is A Wildfire?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines wildfires as “uncontrolled fires that occur in the wildland-urban interface, including grasslands, forests, peatlands, and other vegetation, often exacerbated by dry conditions and wind.” 

Wildfires can significantly impact the environment, the economy, and public health and are a significant concern for many countries worldwide. These can occur anywhere at any time, and the reason for their ignition is often unknown. They can significantly threaten humans, animals, plants, and property. 

Wildfire is an umbrella term used to describe any fire involving vegetation, but they have several different types. These types are based on the behavior that is specific to the fire. 

Surface Fires

Surface fires are the most commonly reported and experienced wildfires. The flames stay close to the surface of the ground and encapsulate grass, leaves, and small twigs found on the ground. 

Due to the low height of the flames, surface fires do not bring massive destruction to them. The flames often do not grow higher than a few inches and subside on their own. However, if a surface fire touches a bigger dry piece of vegetation and burns strongly, it may be capable of immense destruction. 

Surface fires are often seen as beneficial to the land and the ecosystem in which they burn. This is because they help remove dead plants, kill invasive species, and allow for a fresh start for the soil. 

Ground Fires

Ground fires are also referred to as subsurface fires or smoldering fires. The most important characteristic of these fires is that they burn below the ground’s surface. 

The fire occurs in organic matter like the roots or peat below the ground and burns very slowly due to the low Oxygen content. While the fire does not spread rapidly, it continues to burn for a long and produces smoke. 

Ground fires are difficult to spot and hence, can be left to cause damage for longer than fires that are easily detected. These are also detrimental to ecosystems as they destroy plant systems and strip the ground of its nutrients. 

Moreover, ground fires increase soil erosion and decrease the strength of the ground, making it unsafe and unstable to walk on. 

Crown Fires

As the name suggests, crown fires burn at the top of trees and shrubs. Crown fires are considered to be the most dangerous and rapidly spreading wildfires. 

They are often a result of an alleviated surface fire which spread upwards and caused the top of the trees to catch flames. However, that is not all; human activities like arson are also one of the most common causes of crown wildfires. 

The weather and the strength and direction of the winds impact the spread of crown fires a lot. As they grow, they consume everything that comes in the way and can destroy huge chunks of forests, homes, and other infrastructure. 

Spot Fires

Spot fires originate from a bigger crown wildfire. When embers and other burning pieces of trees are carried away from the fire by wind, they land in different areas. If these areas had more fuel for the fire, a new fire called a spot fire would erupt. 

Spot fires can occur in areas with vegetation but in homes, on roofs, and near buildings. These are destructive depending on how much fuel is provided. Sometimes embers and burning pieces are put out when they move to a dry area with no fuel that could ignite a new fire. 

Grass Fires

Grass fires are a type of wildfire that happen in grassy areas, like meadows. They are caused by dry and flammable vegetation and usually have low to medium flames. However, these flames can spread quickly with the help of ample wind and dry fuel. 

The rapid spread makes them dangerous for people, animals, and property. Grass fires are often started by human activity, like improperly putting out campfires or throwing cigarettes on the ground, and are less intense than crown fires. The extent of grass fires is limited to the grassland. 

To prevent grass fires, it’s important to regularly clear dead vegetation, create fire breaks, and avoid activities that could cause a fire.

Signs Of A Wildfire

It is important to know when a wildfire may be occurring near you. Hence it is crucial to look out for signs. 

Smoke: Smoke is one of the first and most obvious signs of a wildfire. If you see a visible plume of smoke from a nearby area or a patch of land, it is best to inform the authorities and prepare yourself for a wildfire. 

Smell: When a wildfire has been burning for some time, the smell of burning wood and leaves fills up the air and is easily observable. 

Flames: In a wildfire, visible flames can be seen from a distance, especially during the night.

Ash and embers: Ash and small pieces of burning material are carried around by the wind and then fall from the sky. If you see ash and embers, it could indicate a wildfire in the area.

Heat: You may feel a sudden increase in temperature, as wildfires can generate a lot of heat.

Wildfire Preparedness

Being prepared for wildfires is crucial, especially if you live in a zone prone to wildfires. Firstly, check in with your officials and look for any instructions they have provided you. 

If you are not evacuating, keep your home closed. Keep your windows and doors sealed and ensure no air enters the house. Form a defensible zone outside your home that is completely void of vegetation and has materials that resist fire. This will prevent the fire from reaching close to your home. 

Lastly, remove any flammable materials you may have left outside or on your roof. 

Final Thoughts

Understanding the different types of wildfires can greatly help in mitigating the spread and intensity of the wildfire. Identifying the fire and taking appropriate measures can minimize the risk of spread and any further destruction.