NEVADA CITY, Calif. July 25, 2021 – Fire season is definitely here and our Happening Now log is filled with ‘report of vegetation fire,’ ‘initial attack,’ and ‘full wildland dispatch’ posts. Every incident page in the fire news section adds to the proliferation of fire jargon, so here’s a short explainer.
These are only a few of the terms used routinely during a fire. If you want to know more, send us your questions about fire lingo and we’ll expand this list.
Full wildland dispatch: At the initial report of a vegetation fire during fire season, dispatchers will order three or four engines, one or two water tenders, a dozer and at least one hand crew to every incident. Air Attack and one tanker are often added. Why? Because every small spot has the potential to develop into a major incident. Once the first firefighter arrives at the incident and assesses the situation, incoming resources may be canceled.
Air Attack: Often referred to as the “spotter plane” these planes will orbit over the fire, direct the ballet of air tankers and helicopters working a fire and be the eyes in the sky for the incident commander on the ground.
Air tanker: Planes equipped to dump retardant on a fire. There are SEATs (Single Engine Air Tankers), large air tankers and now Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT) and Modular Aerial Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS)
Initial attack: The first few hours of a fire, most fires are “caught” within that time frame.
Extended attack: A fire not contained within the first operational period, requiring more resources.
IC: The Incident Commander, responsible for all operations on a fire.
Incident Management Team: A team of firefighters with special skill sets to manage a fire, also known as overhead. If a fire develops into a major incident, a Type II or a Type I Interagency Management Team will take over. These teams are specialists from all different fire agencies, working together to manage and contain a fire.
Bambi bucket: A collapsible bucket used by helicopters to scoop up, transport and dump water on a fire.
Strike team: A team of generally 5 same kind resources with one designated leader. Charlie Strike Teams are engines, Golf Strike Teams are crews and Lima Strike Teams are dozer teams.
Back burn: A fire set inside an existing line to burn back on the main fire, thus depriving it of fuel.
Control burn: A prescribed fire whose goal is to reduce fuel load in an area.
Hand line: A fireline built with hand tools.
Dozer line: A line built with a dozer.
Contingency line: On larger incidents with extreme fire behavior, the incident management team will implement a back up plan when it comes to line construction. Generally constructed with dozers several miles from the main fire lines, contingency lines are part of the backup plan.
Forward progress stopped: Firefighters have boxed in the fire and prevent it from growing. This can be done with hand lines, dozer lines or retardant. The fire is not yet contained, but the potential for growth has been reduced to almost zero.
Mop-up: Once a line is around the fire, be that a handline, a hoselay or a dozer line, firefighters extinguish hotspots within the fire area, then remove or backhaul the equipment, rehabilitate some of the lines they cut and will pile brush and trees cut during the initial attack.
Pyrocumulus: A “fire cloud” produced by very intense heating of the air by surface fire. The heat causes convection, with a thunder cloud forming that can produce lightning. These clouds have become more common in recent years, as have megafires.
Retardant line: Used to slow the progression of a fire.
Rate of Spread: Abbreviated as ROS, it can be slow, moderate, rapid or extreme.
RAWS: Remote Area Weather Station.
Spot fire: Embers spotting over the fire line and igniting a new fire outside the main fire perimeter. Long-range spotting can occur miles ahead of a fire.
Contained, controlled and out cold: The three stages a fire goes through on its way to extinction. Contained means a line is around the full perimeter of the fire. A fuel break constructed with hand lines, dozer lines and natural features such as a river. Controlled means the fire is completely extinguished. There can still be islands of unburned fuels inside the line but the fire has no capacity to cross the containment line. Out cold, the fire does not need to be checked, the firefighters won the battle.
911: For emergencies only, not to get updates on a fire! During a major incident, public information lines and your local media will provide you with updates. The Emergency Command Center aka dispatch is fully engaged in dispatching resources to the fire and all other incidents.
Immediate Evacuation Order: Requires the immediate movement of people out of an affected area due to an imminent threat to life. Choosing to stay could result in loss of life. Staying may also impede the work of emergency personnel. Due to the changing nature of the emergency, this Immediate Evacuation Order may be the only warning that people in the affected area(s) receive.
Evacuation Warning: Alerts people in an affected area(s) of potential threat to life and property. People who need additional time should consider evacuating at this time. An Evacuation Warning considers the probability that an area will be affected and prepares people for a potential Immediate Evacuation Order.
Shelter-In-Place: Advises people to stay secure at their current location by remaining in place as evacuation will cause a higher potential for loss of life.
Rescue: Emergency actions taken within the affected area to recover and remove injured or trapped citizens. Responders have specific training and personal protective equipment necessary to accomplish the mission i.e., hazard material spill, swift-water rescue, etc. Boundaries of the areas where rescue is planned should be identified on the incident map with notification that entry is restricted to rescue workers only.