by Mike Weinstein
Forest fires burn thousands of acres of land each year. They destroy animal and human homes, killing many creatures in their path. But some forest fires also do good. They make forests healthier by clearing out deadwood, making room for new trees. The heat of a fire is needed by some seeds before they can begin to grow. But, good or bad, forest fires need to be controlled. Let's see what it means to be a forest firefighter.
The firefighters awaken to the smell of smoke in their tent. It's still dark as the crew marches off to breakfast. As the sun rises, they board a school bus for the dusty ride to work.
Firefighters rely on teamwork. This group of firefighters, known as a hand crew, will work together with a bulldozer and a helicopter. The crew hikes into the woods to cut a fire line. A fire line is a path through the forest stripped of all plants. Soil doesn't burn, so the fire won't cross this line if the line is wide enough.
The hand crew works in a long line. Using chain saws, the first two crew members cut the big wood out of the path. Next come two swampers, who clear away the wood. The next firefighters in line break up the ground and hack at the remaining plants. Last come firefighters with shovels and other hand tools. As each firefighter takes a swing at the ground, the fire line gets better.
Right now, the fire line is only two feet wide. To make sure the fire won't jump the line, a bulldozer follows the hand crew. In one pass, the bulldozer triples the width of the fire line. The hand crew follows the bulldozer to remove any plants left behind.
If the fire threatens to jump the line, the crew calls in the helicopter. A huge rubber bucket is carried beneath the helicopter. With the flick of a switch, the pilot releases the bottom of the bucket, and water pours to the ground.
One crew member is posted as the lookout. Equipped with a two-way radio and other tools, the lookout keeps an eye on the crew, the fire, and the weather.
After 14 hours of hard work, another hand crew takes over. It has been a good day. No one was hurt, the line held, and everyone returned to camp for a big dinner.
- Why are some forest fires important to the life cycles of certain plants?
- What do you think might happen if there were no forest fires? Write a few sentences explaining your answer.