Fighting Fire with Fire, Literally

Aug 19, 2015

Nathan Weiner grew up in Iowa City, miles away from any naturally occurring wildfires. But after using controlled burns to restore Iowa landscape, he made his way out West.

"Whether it was burning a prairie or burning a woodland, we used prescribed fire to help that get back to its natural state, and once we started doing that, I just got bit by the fire bug, as they call it."

Now, he's a wildland firefighter stationed in Boise, Idaho. He works on a helitack crew, firefighters that are deployed via helicopter to curb wildfires. While the helicopter goes to get water with its 180-gallon bucket, he and his fellow firefighters use hand tools like hoes and shovels to dig a trench that stops the fire from advancing.

"We actually just dig a fire line in front of the fire. So we're trying to remove as much fuel in front of that fire as we can, so once it gets to our fire line, it can't burn anymore.

One of the most counterintuitive tactics is also one of the most effective--setting additional fires.

"That's one of the best tools we have. We'll fight fire with fire. We'll use some sort of barrier that we have-- whether it's a river or a road or a fireline--and we'll actually set a back burn. So we'll set another fire to consume the fuel in front of the fire so that that big fire has nothing left to consume."