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Air Attack 230. Photo: YubaNet

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.

Evacuation language:

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.

14 replies on “Explainer: Fire talk”

  1. Sometimes it is difficult to know the location of a fire start from the descriptions provided. For example, a common road name exists in multiple counties that Yuba Net serves. Naming the county or closest city every time will help narrow the location. Many starts are in rural areas where no roads are close. GPS Coordinates are ideal and allow “copy paste” into a map for an exact location. I understand that the coordinates are not available at inception. Thank you ever so much for your amazing service to our community!

  2. Pascale, Thank you as always! Just another thought. With the number of new people moving into the area, it might be helpful to have a list of things to avoid during fire season. There are far too many incidents occurring daily. Many people moving from a city environment are not aware of everyday activities that may lead to a fire. Unfortunately, I see it daily. This is even more pronounced given the severe drought. Examples: mowing or using any type of machinery in or near grass or vegetation when the moisture content is below a certain level. There are websites which give daily and hourly moisture content in any given area of the county so that people will know when it has become unsafe and cease these activities…hitting one rock while mowing or causing one spark while using machinery is all it takes; dragging trailer chains or any thing else that can spark and lead to a roadside fire. Amazon has very inexpensive chain holders ($10) that prevent chains from hitting the pavement; not pulling over or parking in dry grass as the catalytic converter or exhaust pipe may ignite a fire; use of coal/briquette barbecues on wooden decks without precautions taken for embers. These are just a few examples, but ones that occur daily, leading to new starts that have the potential for a major incident. I know you, and others, can add to the list. Thank you again for all you do……

  3. Thanks for this. I will add that IC can be a place as well as an individual. The Incident Commander is the individual in charge, and he/she is at the Incident Command Post, both can be referred to as IC.

  4. Thank you for always keeping us informed – what an amazing service you provide. I am on this website any time I hear a siren, many times more. Before I go to bed at night, during the night if I awaken. Many thanks.

  5. Thank you for this information and all the information that Yuba Net provides for our county. This is an invaluable service that we depend on. Thank you for being there.

  6. “Energy Release Components (ERC)”?
    – from Dixie Fire West Zone update, 7/25.
    And many thanks for putting this list together!

  7. Thanks for this piece! Fire is a subject always on our minds and we’ve all said, “I wonder what that means?” One term I have seen the last few days is “roll out”. What does that mean?
    K

  8. You mention the “ballet” of aircraft. This is a good description, as it is very graceful yet strong and precise. The direction from the leader in the spotter plane to the other craft is fascinating. I used to be able to pick up their channel on a basic scanner app, but not this season. Any idea where they took their radio communications and how we can listen in? Thank you.

  9. This is very helpful! As a firefighter’s wife it took me several years to learn all these terms and you have nicely summarized them so everyone can understand the “lingo” used by the fire service.

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