What is a forest fire

burning forest

In the news we always see the damage caused by forest fires. But there are many people who do not know what a forest fire is or how it starts. It is important to know that forest fires are totally natural processes that exist in nature that are part of the ecological balance. However, the problem appears when the forest fire is caused by human beings and does not correspond to the part of the ecological balance.

For this reason, we are going to dedicate this article to telling you what a forest fire is, what its origin and characteristics are.

What is a forest fire

mijas fire

The forest fires uncontrolled fire emissions that consume large areas of forest or other vegetation. They are characterized by fire, their fuel materials are wood and plant tissue, and the wind interferes with their development. These fires can be caused by natural causes and caused by man (human actions). In the first case, they occur due to the effects of lightning in extreme conditions of drought and heat, but most are caused by accidental or deliberate human actions.

They are one of the main causes of the degradation or loss of ecosystems since they can completely eliminate the vegetation cover and the fauna of the area. This increases soil erosion, increases runoff, and reduces infiltration, which reduces water availability.

There are three basic types of forest fires, determined by the type of vegetation, ambient humidity, temperature and wind conditions. These are surface fires, crown fires and underground fires.

To prevent forest fires, public awareness of the problem and its consequences is essential. The same goes for environmental conservation, detection and early warning systems, and having forest firefighters.

Characteristics of forest fires

what is a forest fire and consequences

Forest fires are characterized by occurring in open spaces where the winds play a determining role. On the other hand, the flammable materials that feed them are plant matter, such as lignin and cellulose, which burn easily.

for its origin a combination of combustible materials, heat and oxygen was necessary. The main contributing factors are the presence of dry vegetation and low soil and air humidity, as well as high temperatures and strong winds.

Specific composition

The plant species in a given location can determine how far and how fast a fire will spread. For example, resins produced by conifers such as pine and cypress increase the flammability of plant material. Also, some angiosperms from families such as sumac and hay (grass) are excellent fuels. Especially in the tall grasslands, the flames spread extremely quickly.


The topography and wind direction at the site of a wildfire are determinants of fire spread and spread. For example, a fire on the side of a hill, the airflow rises and spreads with high speed and high flames. Also, on steep slopes, fragments of burning fuel material (ash) can easily fall downhill.

fire and ecosystems

In some ecosystems, fire is one of their functional characteristics, and the species has adapted to and even depends on periodic fires. In the savannahs and Mediterranean forests, for example, burnings are carried out periodically to renew the vegetation and favor the germination or regeneration of certain species.

On the other hand, many other ecosystems are not fire resistant and are severely affected by wildfires. This is the case for tropical rain forests, tropical deciduous forests, etc.

Wildfire Parts

what is a forest fire

The location of a forest fire is fundamentally determined by the direction in which the fire is directed, which is determined by the wind. In this sense, the line of fire, the flanks and the tail, and the secondary focus are defined. From the starting point, the fire spreads in all directions on the plane, but the prevailing wind direction defines its characteristics.

  • fire front: it is the front of the fire, favoring the prevailing wind direction, and the flames are high enough to allow tongues of flame to appear. The latter is a longitudinal extension of the front, covering the ground and expanding the fire zone.
  • Edges: are the lateral parts of the fire associated with the advancing front, where the wind strikes laterally. In the region, the fires were less intense and advanced more slowly.
  • Glue: is the back of the forest fire, corresponding to the origin of the fire. At this point, the flame is low because most of the fuel material has been consumed.
  • Secondary foci: the action of fragments of burning material moved by the action of the wind or a steep slope usually creates an ignition source far from the main nucleus.

Main causes of a forest fire

Forest fires can be caused by natural causes or by human activities.

Natural causes

Some vegetation fires are produced by strictly natural causes, such as the effects of lightning. Also, the potential for spontaneous combustion of certain types of vegetation under the right conditions has been noted. However, some researchers deny this possibility because the temperature required for forest fires to start exceeds 200 ºC.

man-made causes

More than 90% of wildfires are caused by humans, whether accidental, negligent, or intentional.

  • Accidents: Many forest fires are caused by short circuits or overloads of power lines that pass through natural spaces. In some cases, this happened because weeds were not removed at the base of the tower and along power lines.
  • Negligence: A very common cause of forest fires are campfires that are difficult to extinguish or are uncontrolled. Burn rubbish or butts dumped on the side of the road in the same way.
  • By the way: man-made forest fires are very frequent. Therefore, there are people who have mental problems because they like to make fire (arsonists).

On the other hand, many forest fires are set deliberately to destroy vegetation cover and justify the use of land for other purposes. For example, it has been reported that the main cause of fires in the Amazon is the deliberate burning of grasses and introduced crops, mainly soybeans.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about what a forest fire is and its characteristics.

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