Lifecycle of a Wildfire: From Flash to Ash [Infographic]

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How does a wildfire go from tiny spark to roaring blaze to ash and dust? The lifecycle of a wildfire depends on an initiating agent, environmental factors, and the specialized efforts of firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

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Birth of a Wildfire

Wildfires need three ingredients to begin: fuel + oxygen + heat.

A Wildfire May Be Sparked By:

Embers from Burning Debris

Human Error — Cigarette Butts, Unattended Campfires



Heat from the Sun

Prescribed Fires Gone Wrong

Up to 90% of wildland fires in the US are caused by humans.


A Wildfire Is Exacerbated By:

[Keep the following text in a list format.]

Low Humidity

High Winds [Illustrate a wind icon]


Extreme Heat [Illustrate the sun]

Plentiful Fuel Nearby [Illustrate trees like this or this]

Thick wildland vegetation

Overgrown forests

Debris near homes


1. Wildland firefighters assess:

Weather conditions [image of a cloud and sun]

Natural fire breaks and barriers [image of a stream like this or this]

Fire access points [image of a road like this]

Hazards [image of a large propane tank, or other fuel source]

Resources needed [image of a fire truck like this or this]

2. Firefighters mark control lines, escape routes, and safety zones.

3. Helicopters and ground teams use water and flame retardant to combat the fire.

Wildfire Fighting Aircraft

Aircraft help firefighters monitor the blaze, identify hotspots, and disperse large amounts of water & fire retardant quickly.

  • Air Tanker – carries large amounts of water or fire retardant
  • Heli Tanker – carries buckets of water that dip into natural water resources
  • Modular Airborne Firefighting System – attach to military aircrafts to form tankers


A wildfire is extinguished in stages until it is completely out:


A control line has been completed around the fire that is reasonably expected to stop its spread.


Unburnt fuel is removed. Hotspots are cooled adjacent to control lines, which are reasonably expected to hold.


No hotspots are detected within containment lines for at least 48 hours.

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