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KUTV.com | Stories -  Good Question: What does it mean to 'contain' a wildfire?
Friday, August 30 2013, 10:54 PM MDT
Good Question: What does it mean to 'contain' a wildfire?
(KUTV)When you ask a ‘Good Question,’ we give it to Matt Gephardt who on Fridays finds the answer on 2News at 10.

This question came to me from Debbye Boe of Clearfield. She writes, "With all the wildfire reporting recently, how do they figure the containment percent?  What does that mean?”

When a major wildfire breaks out there are a few things we all expect to see: Huge flames, helicopters dropping water and planes retardant, and news reporters and fire fighters all using the same word: “contained.”

Over and over, percentage contained is used to address how good or bad a handle firefighters have on the fire.

"To contain a fire we have what we call a fire line around the fire," says Annette Woodhead, a battalion chief with the Sandy City Fire Department.  She says they guesstimate containment based on what percentage of the fire they have surrounded.

"That can be a road or it can be natural fire-line such as a river, or we can cut the fire-line by hand," she said.

Cutting a fire-line by hand is the job of the wild-land firefighters who fight the flames, not with water, but with shovels and pick axes.

"Those wild-land firefighters, my hats off to them,” Woodhead said. “They work really hard. That's the hardest work I’ve ever seen in my life."

Woodhead cautions that having a fire 100% contained does not mean the fire is out. A typical fire-line is about the width of a one lane road, 10-12 feet. That means, in the wrong conditions, a fire can go from 100% contained back to out of control very quickly.

"If the wind is blowing hard enough that the fire can jump over that fire line or say a piece of timber falls across that fire line, the containment would no longer be in effect," Woodhead said.

Wildfire season this year has been particularly bad. In fact there are so many fires that the feds are preparing to fly in fire-fighters from Australia and New Zealand to help out strapped U.S. resources. That will mean more men and women who will be working to ‘contain’ wildfires. And now, when they do, we will know what they are talking about thanks to Debbye’s good question.

If you have a question, email Gephardt@kutv.tv or call (801) 839-1250.

By Matt Gephardt

(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)
Good Question: What does it mean to 'contain' a wildfire?

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