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Fire Wars

Classroom Activities

Where Growth Meets Growth

To identify fire risk factors for a property located near a wildland area.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Where Growth Meets Growth" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  • colored pencils
  1. One of the issues surrounding wildland fires involves areas where uncontrolled urban growth meets uncontrolled vegetative growth. People who live in these areas should take extra precautions to limit the effects of any nearby wildland fire that might occur. Students will take on the role of Fire Marshal for a house that requires a safety evaluation.

  2. Review with students some of the types of ecosystems that could be subject to wildland fire under these circumstances. (See Activity Answer for more information.)

  3. Organize students into teams and distribute a copy of the "Where Growth Meets Growth" student handout and colored pencils to each team.

  4. Have students identify, number, and provide reasons for areas of increased risk they think should be changed. Have students consider changes that may mean adding or taking something away from the property that is not currently featured in the illustration.

  5. When teams are finished, compile everyone's results on the chalkboard, categorize the measures, and review them. What are the benefits of these changes? Which changes would students make first and why?

  6. As an extension, have students survey and identify areas of their towns that may be most at risk for fire.

Activity Answer

The following are some measures that can be taken to protect a house from wildland fire.

Labeled version of house diagram

  1. Remove leaves and rubbish under doghouse and any other structures.

  2. Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from the house.

  3. Water and mow grass regularly to keep it green and less flammable.

  4. Rake flammable vegetation such as dead leaves, limbs, branches, twigs, and grass clippings.

  5. Have power company clear branches from lines.

  6. Prune tree branches within 15 feet of a chimney outlet.

  7. Clean chimneys at least once a year.

  8. Make sure roof uses fire-resistant materials such as asphalt, fiberglass, concrete tile, clay tile, or metal.

  9. Remove dead branches that extend over the rooftop.

  10. Clean gutters regularly.

  11. Remove vines from exterior walls.

  12. Arrange trees so that there are gaps in the canopy.

  13. Any part of property that includes wood, such as fence, latticework, or facing should be changed. Alternatives include a stone fence, brick or concrete as a porch front and, concrete or clay tiles on the house dormer.

  14. Address should be clearly posted for firefighters to see.

  15. Never leave a flame burning unattended.

Additional measures

  • Situate the house on flat land; the steeper the slope, the faster the fire will move up it.

  • Make sure there is open access for firefighters to reach the property.

  • Plant fire-resistant shrubs and vegetation.

  • Add an independent water supply.

  • Add a swimming pool.

Links and Books


Dilsaver, Larry, and William Tweed. Challenge of the Big Trees: A Resource History of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1991.
Presents an environmental history of the giant sequoias and explores the role of fire and the issue of biological conservation. Includes maps and an annotated bibliography.

Fuller, Margaret. Forest Fires: An Introduction to Wildland and Fire Behavior, Management, Firefighting, and Prevention. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1991.
Provides an introduction to forest fires and fire ecology.

Junger, Sebastian. Fire. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.
Describes raging forest fires in the Western United States and other dangerous situations at home and abroad.

Leschak, Peter M. Hellroaring: The Life and Times of a Fire Bum. East Peoria, IL: North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 1994.
Chronicles the author's adventures as a forest firefighter.

Maclean, John N. Fire on the Mountain. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1999.
Depicts and analyzes the deadly 1994 fire at Storm King Mountain.

Maclean, Norman. Young Men and Fire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Describes the disaster at Mann Gulch in 1949; considered a classic in firefighting.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Fire: Friend or Foe. New York: Clarion Books, 1998.
Discusses the pros and cons of fire on the ecosystem and examines differing views and policy recommendations about firefighting and controlled burning.

Pyne, Stephen J. Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.
Chronicles the history of fire in the United States; the first of six books in the author's Cycle of Fire series.

Pyne, Stephen J. Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter's Season at the Grand Canyon. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995.
Presents a firsthand account of the author's firefighting days.

Pyne, Stephen J. Year of the Fires: The Stories of the Great Fires of 1910. New York: Viking, 2001.
Describes the Great Fires of 1910 through eyewitness accounts of the rangers, soldiers, politicians, bureaucrats, scientists, and civilians; and shows how virtually all modern firefighting policies originated from the experiences of 1910.

Sholly, Dan R. and Steven M. Newman. Guardians of Yellowstone: An Intimate Look at the Challenges of Protecting America's Foremost Wilderness Park. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991.
Describes the fight to protect the land and people of Yellowstone National Park during the forest fires of 1988.

Taylor, Murray A. Jumping Fire: A Smokejumper's Memoir of Fighting Wildfire. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2000.
Recounts the author's 20 years of fighting wildfires in the American West.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Fire Wars
Provides program-related articles, interviews, interactive activities, and other resources.

Earth Observatory
Shows view of wildland fires from space.

Employment and Careers in Forestry
Lists employment opportunities in the areas of forestry and natural resources, including an article about finding firefighting employment online.

Fire & Aviation Fire Reports
Provides daily fire reports from agencies such as the National Interagency Fire Center, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service. Also includes archived monthly situation reports dating back to 1994.

Fire Ecology
Includes background information about fire ecology, a Teacher's Guide with activities and quizzes, and a glossary of fire terms and additional references.

Fire Globe
Includes links to global, regional and national fire weather and climate forecasts; near-real time global fire data; and international forest fire news.

Fire Management Today
Provides online issues of Fire Management Today. Topics include wildland fire in communities, wildland fire prevention, wildland fire weather, the role of fire in wildlands, and more.

Fire Management Tools Online
Provides access to a collection of documentation, visuals, graphics, notices, and software contributed by and for the wildland fire management community.

Offers information about wildland fire training and employment with the National Park Service and provides links to other National Park Service sites that contain specific park-related fire information.

Includes daily National Interagency Fire Center Incident Management Situation Report, peak fire seasons map, materials for educators, and more.

Offers information about forest fires and prescribed burning.

National Interagency Fire Center
Features wildland fire statistics, current wildland fire information, and other useful links.

Wildfire News
Offers information about fire ecology, a fire danger map, regional reports, and links to additional resources. The section "So You Want to Be a Wildland Firefighter?" highlights some of the qualifications for a career in fighting wildland fires.

Wildland Fire in Yellowstone
Provides history and ecology of wildland fires in Yellowstone.

Wildland Fire Operations
Describes the different command operations used for a fire that falls under more than one agency's jurisdiction. Also includes information about hotshot and helitack crews, smokejumper operations, and more.


The "When Growth Meets Growth" activity aligns with the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 6-8

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Natural hazards

  • Internal and external processes of the earth system cause natural hazards, events that change or destroy human and wildlife habitats, damage property, and harm or kill humans. Natural hazards include earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, floods, storms, and even possible impacts of asteroids.

Risks and benefits

  • Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people that might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.

Grades 9-12

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Natural and human-induced hazards

  • Natural and human-induced hazards present the need for humans to assess potential danger and risk. Many changes in the environment designed by humans bring benefits to society, as well as cause risks. Students should understand the costs and trade-offs of various hazards—ranging from those with minor risk to a few people to major catastrophes with major risk to many people. The scale of events and the accuracy with which scientists and engineers can (and cannot) predict events are important considerations.

Teacher's Guide
Fire Wars

Video is not required for this activity