Fire Do We Fight?
On August 2, 2000, 27 wildfires broke out in a single day. In situations like this, fire experts must determine which fires to fight first. They must make the best use of their limited manpower.
Activity: Using critical thinking, students participate in a model of the decision-making used by firefighters. Students evaluate criteria to determine how to use resources and manpower, and how to prioritize fighting a group of wildfires. The scenarios presented here are based on real fires that occurred this past summer.
- Use the following activity for a whole-class discussion.
- Give students the following wildfire information by using an overhead transparency or reproducible.
A. A wildfire came within several feet of a nuclear-research and waste-storage facility at the National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (Idaho).
B. A wildfire threatened radio and television antennae, as well as satellite and cell-phone sites.
C. At Mesa Verde, Colorado, a wildfire was threatening the archaeological cliff homes of the Pueblo Indian ancestors (the Anasazi), who built these cliff dwellings about 800 years ago.
D. A raging wildfire in Colu River Gorge, Washington, threatened to destroy a large wheat crop.
E. A wildfire was threatening a rare species of pine tree.
F. A wildfire was raging in the Sequoia National Forest.
G. A community of homes was in danger.
H. A "new" fire had just ignited in an area of Montana.
- Ask students individually to prioritize the eight fire situations. Assign the number 1 to the first fire to which they would send firefighters and support staff, and the number 8 to the last fire in order of priority.
- Have the class write the reasons they placed the wildfires in a particular order.
- Then have students work in small groups to make a decision about the fires. They should compare their individual choices and try to come to a group decision. Explain that this is a challenge and there is no one right answer.
Additional Information on Prioritizing Wildfires:
The National Interagency Fire prioritizes fire fighting in the following way:
1. Fires that threaten people's lives and communities
2. New fires that are just beginning
Fire experts also take other factors under consideration, such as whether a fire threaten watersheds, or endangered species of animals or plants. Another consideration is whether a fire threatens economically or culturally significant areas.
Photo: William Campbell/Corbis Sygma