If the summer of 2018 has proven one thing, it’s that fighting large wildfires is serious business. But how exactly do we do it? Contrary to what some politicians might think, it takes a lot more than rivers of water.
There are currently more than 20,700 people combatting active fires in the U.S. according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That number includes not just firefighters, but pilots who fly air tankers, meteorologists that track weather, and logistics experts that make sure there’s water for the portable showers in fire camps. It even includes firefighters from Australia and New Zealand, underscoring that battling blazes to protect lives, property, and our increasingly flammable forests is a huge team effort.
The methods we use to fight wildfires are equally diverse. On the front lines, old school hand tools are used to snuff the flames at their source. But those efforts are increasingly being informed by drones in the sky. Similarly, the crucial work of fire watch towers where rangers and volunteers keep an eye out for smoke is being supplemented by satellites that can spot lightning.
Making sure all these teams and tools work together is increasingly important as more people move to fire-prone areas and climate change makes big blazes more common. Add in resources being stretched thin and the wildfire budget being a mess, and the urgency will only keep growing.