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Liar, Liar, House on Fire! The Relationship Between Trees, Wildland Fire, and Damage to Homes

This article is from Issue Wildland Fire - Vol. 4 No. 1.

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When lightning or other forms of ignition start a fire in a forest, there is a chance of a wildfire. Wildfires may be started by a natural cause, such as lightning, or they may be started accidently by human activities or on purpose by an ill-meaning person. When houses are built close to trees, the trees provide the fuel that wildfires need to spread. The question the scientist wanted to answer was: How close must flames come to a house’s outside wooden walls before those walls catch fire? 

Welcome to the Wildland Fire edition

Note to Educators

The Story of Smokey Bear

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • People and Science
  • Technology and Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Vegetation Management (Educators)
  • Vegetation Protection (Fire, Insects, Endangered Species) (Educators)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Alaska
  • Intermountain
  • Northern
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Pacific Southwest
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Southern
  • Southwestern

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Scientists are like detectives because they solve mysteries. Like detectives, scientists sometimes follow many different clues and determine if all of the clues lead them to the same conclusion. When a detective follows a clue, he or she plans in advance how that clue will befollowed. Scientists also develop plans to solve problems. Their plans are called methods. In this study, the scientist used three methods to find out under which conditions houses might catch fire from forest wildfires. Then the scientist compared the methods to see if all three of the methods (or clues) led him to the same conclusion. Can you think of a time when you do the same thing? Think about the latest movie hit. To determine if the movie is good, you might ask your friends if they liked the movie (clue #1); you might read about the movie in a magazine, newspaper, or on the Web (clue #2); and you might see the movie yourself (clue #3). When you do this, you are like a scientist!
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
Sometimes things happen in the environment that people call natural disasters. A natural disaster is a natural disturbance that people judge to be harmful. When injury or harm does not occur, these natural events are recognized as normal environmental events that happen at a large scale. Examples include floods, avalanches, and wildfires. Wildfires are different than floods and avalanches in one important way. Floods and avalanches consist of a mass, such as water or snow, which moves and completely covers everything in its path. Fire does not move in this way. Fire spreads from the continual ignition and burning of fuel. For a fire to spread, it must have fuel, heat, and oxygen. If any one of these three is not present in a great enough amount, a fire cannot spread. Scientists call this the fire triangle.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Effect of natural disaster on living things

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Motions and forces (B)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Personal health (F)
  • Risks and benefits (F)
  • Science and technology in society (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Transfer of energy (B)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)

Science Benchmarks covered in this article:
  • Habits of Mind: Communication Skils
  • Habits of Mind: Critical-Response Skills
  • Historic Perspectives: Understanding Fire
  • The Nature of Science: Scientific Inquiry
  • The Nature of Science: The Scientific Enterprise