Wildfires are Burning in the Western United States
News story originally written on June 14, 2002
There are 19 large wildfires burning in the United States (as of June 13, 2002). Most of the fires are within western states such as California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Alaska.
Small natural wildfires can be healthy for forests, since they clear dead trees, and make room for larger, living trees. This season's large wildfires, however, do not just remove dead wood but can burn everything in their path.
The largest fire is southwest of Denver, Colorado and has been burning since Sunday June 9, 2002. The fire has burnt an area that's about the size of 100,000 football fields. A campfire started the wildfire even though people are not allowed to have campfires in the area. Although it has burnt some buildings, the fire is mostly in forests. Colorado has not had as much rain and snow this year as it usually does. This makes the pine and conifer forests very dry and easily burnt.
People who handle fire carelessly may start wildfires or wildfires may be started naturally, often by lightning strikes. No matter how it starts, every fire needs three things: fuel, oxygen and heat. The fuels for a wildfire are plants such as trees, grasses, and shrubs. The oxygen needed for a fire to burn comes from air. Heat is necessary for a fire to burn as well. To stop a wildfire, firefighters try to take at least one of these three things from the fire.
The wildfires in the West are being fought in many ways. They are fought by firefighters on the ground, who try to smother and contain the fire. Fires are also fought from the air with planes dropping a soupy mixture called slurry onto fires from above. Also, NASA's Terra satellite is helping scientists and land managers monitor fires from space by producing images like the one on the left that shows where fires are located.