10 Strategies Firefighters Use to Fight Wildfires

iStock
iStock

Most Americans know how to stop, drop, and roll. Some even know how to employ a fire suppression blanket and how to properly operate a fire extinguisher. But for the vast majority of people, fire is something you brag about being able to make out of two sticks, or something you cook dinner on top of, or just something you run away from—certainly not something you want to have to fight to put out. This is all probably for the best—battling a wildfire is no straightforward task. The men and women who do run toward an unexpected blaze have been well trained in strategies that can suppress the flames of a wildfire. Below are 10 of the techniques firefighters use to put fires out quickly, completely, and safely.

1. CONTROL LINE

One of the most important components of wildfire suppression, control lines are simply the boundaries—natural or manmade—that firefighters employ to control how and where a fire spreads. A rocky ridge or river can serve as a natural control line, or firefighters can establish a manmade one by, for example, clearing out an extended line of brush. Within this overarching definition, a fire line is when the barrier is scraped down “to mineral soil,” a scratch line is a preliminary line built in a hurry, and a wet line is when the area has had flame retardant or water applied. And when you hear on the news that a fire is "X percent contained," this is generally what they’re talking about—that some percentage of the fire’s perimeter has a control/fire line. Sadly, because fires can sometimes jump the barrier, this means even a 100 percent contained fire can start up again.

2. BURNING OUT

When establishing control lines, digging a small ditch and pulling up some plants isn't always enough. To create a sturdy, fuel-free barrier, firefighters may use small torches to burn the brush just inside a control line. A burnout is one of several ways to bolster a control line and further prevent a blaze from escaping the established boundaries.

3. BACKBURN

A backburn is similar to a burnout, but requires a slightly more sophisticated technique. Once a control line is established, firefighters may set a controlled blaze downwind of the main fire, just on the inside of the control line. Firefighters then push the new blaze back toward the main fire, burning up all the fuel that lies between the fire and the control line.

4. FLANKING

For a wildfire small enough to be snuffed out using a direct attack, firefighters may begin their assault on the blaze from behind. Starting from already burned earth, the firefighters will typically work their way around the edge of the fire to spray the flames as they make their way around the entire perimeter of the blaze.

5. HOT SPOTTING

Hot spotting is the term used to describe the extra attention given to the most active and dangerous portions of a wildfire. The crews fighting the fire size up the parts of the blaze most likely to spread and try to devise the best strategy for keeping these areas in check. Hot spotting may also involve diverting extra manpower to the task of stamping out embers and spot fires that blow or erupt from the hottest part of the fire.

6. KNOCK DOWN

Whereas hot spotting refers to the assessment of a fire's condition, knocking down is all about action. The knock down strategy is employed when firefighters decide that a certain hotspot needs to be suppressed immediately. To diminish the section of a fire deemed to have grown too hot, too active, or too large, fighters directly apply some combination of dirt, water, or retardant to that section.

7. COLD TRAILING

While a fire is being attacked from the front or side, other firefighters may be involved in cold trailing, the task of combing through already scorched ground in the wake of a moving wildfire. The point is to make sure no hot or glowing embers remain, since leftover coals can be blown around and flame up again.

8. AERIAL ATTACK

If significant exposed water sources are nearby, planes and helicopters can scoop up buckets of water and carry them to be dropped atop the blaze. The water is often mixed with a foam retardant before being dropped [PDF]. The foamed water acts as a more effective barrier to the spread of fire and also insulates fuel that has not yet burned.

9. FIRELINE EXPLOSIVES

When setting control lines or firelines, firefighters may even use explosives to break up dense brush and fallen trees. Explosives can also be used to fell trees whose spread might help a fire jump across a control line. During a large or fast-moving fire, explosives are employed mainly for efficiency purposes, as they can save precious time when firefighters need to contain a fire quickly.

10. MOP-UP

It's called mop-up when firefighters go back and clean up along a completed control line. Mop-up consists of dousing any embers and spot fires that have made their way across control lines. It also involves protecting still-vulnerable fuels using a burnout (if they're permanently situated) or by simply moving them.

This story originally ran in 2014.

12 Perfectly Spooky Halloween Decorations Under $25

Amazon/shopDisney
Amazon/shopDisney

Halloween is right around the corner—which means it’s officially time to bring out the jack-o'-lanterns, watch scary movies, buy your costume(s), and hang up your festive decorations. Although there are thousands of decorations to choose from, you don’t have to blow your budget while decking out your house or apartment in honor of the spooky season this year. With a little guidance, you'll find plenty of ways to create the perfect ambiance at home without going for broke. (And best of all, you can put the money you saved toward extra Halloween candy to stash away.)

From giant spiders to hanging ghosts and lawn decorations, here are a few of our favorite props under $25.

1. Halloween Pillow Covers (4-Pack); $17

ZJHAI/Amazon

These adorable Halloween-themed pillowcases make the perfect accessory for any couch, sofa, or mattress. Made with thick linen fabric, these are durable, sturdy, and designed to last for seasons to come. (Tip: To prevent the zipper from breaking, fold the pillow in half before inserting.)

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black Lace Spiderweb Fireplace Mantle; $12

Aerwo/Amazon

This versatile spiderweb prop is made with 100-percent polyester, and its knit lace spiderweb pattern adds a spooky touch to any home. Display it on your doorway, across your fireplace mantel, or atop your table. (It also makes a great backdrop for Halloween photo ops.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Statement Halloween Signs; $16

Dazonge/Amazon

These festive, statement-making banners come pre-assembled, making them incredibly easy to install. They’re also weather-resistant and washable for both outdoor and indoor use. Use tape, push-pins, or weights to prevent the signs from blowing away.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Jack Skellington and Sally Plush Dolls; $23 (Each)

Disney

Celebrate your favorite holiday with a pair of adorable Jack Skellington and Sally plush dolls from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack stands at 28 inches tall, while Sally is a bit shorter at 21 inches. Set them up on your sofa or against the window sill for all to see.

Buy them: Disney Shop (Jack and Sally)

5. Halloween Zombie Groundbreaker; $22

Joyin/Amazon

This spooktacular zombie lawn decoration is sure to scare all of your friends, family, and neighbors alike. Made with a combination of latex, plastic, and fabric, this durable Halloween prop is sure to last for years to come.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Hanging Ghost Decoration; $14

Moon Boat/Amazon

Drape this handmade, 14-foot-long hanging ghost decoration over your porch, doorway, or window. You can also hang it outdoors over a tree or a (very tall) bush. And, since it comes pre-assembled, you won’t have to waste time constructing it yourself.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Two-Piece Hanging Ghost Set; $17

GeeFuun/Amazon

This pair of ghosts adds a whimsical touch to any home. While they’re not “scary,” per se, they certainly are adorable. Display them in your front yard, on your porch, on a lamppost, or a tree. To hang, simply tie the ribbons and bend the wires, arms, and tails.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Pumpkin String Lights; $19

Eurus Home/Amazon

Not only are these solar-powered, 33-foot-long LED string lights good for the environment, they’re also incredibly easy to install (no long, tangly power cable chords necessary). Since they’re waterproof, you can use them both indoors and outdoors. Choose from eight different light settings, including twinkling, flashing, fading, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Inflatable Ghost; $22

Joiedomi/Amazon

This adorable inflatable ghost (which dons a cute-as-can-be wizard hat!) features built-in LED lights and sandbags to help it stay sturdy. It also comes complete with a plug, extended cords, ground stakes, and fastened ropes. Simply plug it in and watch it magically inflate within just a few minutes.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Graveyard Tombstones; $17

meiguisha/Amazon

Turn your front lawn into a graveyard with this six-piece set. Each tombstone is made with foam and designed to add a touch of spookiness to your space. To install, insert one holder into the bottom of the tombstone, and one into the soil. You can use these indoors, as well.

Buy it: Amazon

11. 10-Piece Skeleton Set; $24

Fun Little Toys/Amazon

This skeleton set includes a skull, hands and arms, and legs and feet—plus five stakes to hold everything in place. Each “bone” and “joint” is flexible, allowing you to prop the skeleton into different frighteningly fun poses. Simply place the stakes into the bone socket and turn clockwise.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Outdoor Spider Web; $18

amenon/Amazon

This giant, ultra-stretchy spider web spans a whopping 23 feet. It also includes a 30-inch black spider, 20 pieces of fake spiders, one hook, and one nail. Its thick polyester rope—combined with the sturdy stakes—allows the spider web to stay in place all season long. Place the hook on a wall or tree, and expand the web using the stakes.

Buy it: Amazon

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Cop Rock: How ABC Created the Strangest TV Musical Of All Time

The cast of Cop Rock—in a rare moment of not singing about law and order.
The cast of Cop Rock—in a rare moment of not singing about law and order.
Shout! Factory

A team of gun-toting officers storm into a drug den in the middle of the night as helicopters hover above; a young meth addict mother watches as her baby is taken away from her; a half-dozen gang members are violently placed under arrest.

The opening scene of Cop Rock, which premiered on September 26, 1990, initially resembles the gritty police procedurals co-creator Steven Bochco made his name with. Yet as the suspects are marched out of the house, the show immediately proves it’s a different beast than Hill Street Blues or L.A. Law. For the gang then breaks into an N.W.A-lite rap titled "We Got the Power."

Taking advantage of his 10-series deal with ABC, Bochco had thrown caution to the wind and released a show that was a blend of an ambitious black comedy, a weighty cop drama, and ... musical theater.

Later on in the pilot episode, a courtroom jury turns into a fully-robed gospel choir while belting out their verdict of “He’s guilty.” Elsewhere, a city mayor accepts a bribe from a property developer in the form of a ‘70s-inspired barroom rocker, and the aforementioned meth mom sings a sweet lullaby to her baby before selling the newborn for a measly $200. You can understand why TV Guide once hailed Cop Rock as “the single most bizarre TV musical of all time.”

Unfortunately, Cop Rock's strangeness didn’t pique the curiosity of enough ABC viewers and the show was canceled after just 11 episodes (although it did manage to attract 9 million viewers—a number that certainly wouldn't be sniffed at these days). Its songwriting talent seemed baffled that it ever even aired at all. Randy Newman, who penned both the theme tune and all five songs from its pilot episode, once told Bochco, “You’re crazy. It’ll never work.” Composer Michael Post, meanwhile, claimed it was the worst idea he had ever heard.

Bochco and fellow showrunner William M. Finkelstein didn’t exactly make things easy for themselves, either. The majority of actors were cast simply for their vocal abilities—hence the oft-wooden line deliveries. Conversely, those actors who were able to prop up the more dramatic scenes struggled to hold a tune. The creators also decided to forgo the typical lip-synching to pre-recorded vocals approach and capture each musical interlude live instead, which only added to the show's production complexities.

Unlike future hybrid shows such as Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Empire, Cop Rock struggled to integrate its musicality into its storylines in an organic way. There’s a time and a place for a jaunty Hall & Oates pastiche, of course, but it’s probably not in the middle of a self-described "baby merchant" getting caught in a child abduction sting. Had the show sold itself as a pure comedy, such baffling set pieces might have worked. But most of the laughs Cop Rock got were of the unintentional variety.

The series may have gone down in infamy as one of the biggest misfires in network TV history, but many of the people who were involved with it still seem proud to be associated with a show that refused to play by the norms. In 2010, Bochco told the Los Angeles Times that he considered Cop Rock to be a highlight of his career. And let’s not forget that the show picked up five Emmy nominations, and won two of them: Outstanding Editing for a Series and Achievement in Music and Lyrics for Newman. (It's worth noting that The Wire, which is regularly cited as one of television's best crime dramas—and one of the greatest TV shows of all time—received just two Emmy nominations throughout its entire five-season run, both for Outstanding Writing.)

Although Cop Rock's songs may seem considerably dated today, a belated DVD release in 2016, courtesy of Shout! Factory, showed that the show's themes sadly remain all-too-timely today. Storylines included an unarmed African-American suspect being killed in cold blood by a white cop and a mother singing to her kids about Black history after racists plant a burning cross on their front lawn. Bob Iger, ABC’s former head of entertainment, even said that if the show had been a straightforward police procedural, it probably would have lasted more than a single season.

Perhaps we should consider Cop Rock as more of an admirable failure than an outright embarrassing disaster. As Bochco told The A.V. Club in 2016: "If you have the guarantee of getting that many shows on the air and you don’t do something bold and adventurous and experimental, then shame on you."