What's the difference between containing a wildfire and controlling it?


Just what does it mean when you hear “the fire is now contained?” versus “The fire is now controlled?” Here are some common firefighting terms explained.



A fireline (fire break) is a cleared area intended to stop or suppress a wildfire from spreading. It must be dug down to mineral soil, removing all flammable material including leaves, pine needles, duff (the decomposed material underneath them), surface roots, or overhanging branches—anything that might fuel and spread the wildfire.

The width of a fireline depends on the type of fuel. Grass fires may only require a six-foot wide line, but in a forest with trees towering 60 feet or more, the fire line might require clearance of hundreds or thousands of feet, including full grown trees. Fire crews usually hand dig narrower lines, but in the case of very wide firelines, bulldozers are called in, provided the terrain is not too steep.

Winds also plays an important factor. It is not uncommon for winds to send sparks miles ahead of an advancing fire, setting new fires ahead of the main fire. When this happens, firefighters are in danger of being trapped in between the two. 



A backfire is fighting fire with fire. There are instances where fires are too large or too out of control either because of high winds or inaccessible terrain to rely on hand crews or heavy equipment. Backfiring is a dangerous procedure in which fire crews set intentionally ignite vegetation in front of the advancing main fire. Without new fuel to burn, the hope is the fire with starve itself out.



You may have heard fire officials declare either a percent of containment, or that a wildfire is contained. All containment means is that fire crews have completed a fireline around the fire’s perimeter. While it means there’s less risk of the fire raging out of control again, officials at this point are fairly confident that it will not. There’s much work to be done before the fire is officially “controlled."


A fire is consider controlled when it is OUT. And “out” means that fire crews have either mopped-up the entire fire or at least enough of the perimeter extending into the burned area that it is unlikely the fire will resume. What is mopping-up? A dirty, thankless job where firefighters comb the burn area and extinguish every single hotspot, including smoldering stumps, and downed trees.


A prescribed burn is a planned fire to reduce the build-up of fuels and reduce wildfire danger. It’s interesting to note that back in the 1970s when I worked for the Forest Service, fire officials called these “Controlled Burns.” My take on the name change is because fire has proven to never really be completely under human control, the term was dropped and the prescribed burn designation took its place.

Guest post: Like Fine Wine, Good Writing Takes Time



Like Fine Wine, Good Writing Takes Time

by Patti Townley-Covert


Many years ago, after a dramatic affair on a cruise ship with a sexy Norwegian navigator, I decided I wanted to write a book. But there were some strong reasons to wait. In fact, I waited almost 30 years. Now I’m not recommending you wait that long, but taking my time made a tremendous difference to my story—and waiting could make a difference to yours. Here’s why.

The necessary skill takes time to develop. Writing for publication is different than writing for a school assignment. Although you may have a gift for words, understanding the craft of writing takes effort. The more story-telling techniques you apply, the more vivid your story becomes. Learning to evoke emotion takes skill.

There are many ways to learn the craft of writing for publication. Reading books on writing is not only fun, but engages your creativity with ideas. My two favorites are Writing for Story by Jon Franklin and Make Every Word Count by Gary Provost. Because they’re so powerful, I’ve reread each of them several times over the years.

Practice. Practice. Practice. If your story means as much to you as mine did to me, it’s beneficial to write—lots. An professional editor/mentor told me a great way to develop my skill was to write letters—in today’s world that may equate to emails.

For a few years, I wrote a prisoner—a man who had murdered his wife. We dialogued about all kinds of issues, and as I strived for clarity of important points, I grew in my craft. In fact, I met that guy because of a magazine article I’d written.

Another way I practiced was journaling. This helped me understand my story better. I certainly didn’t want to encourage people to have affairs, yet my romance was electrifying. As I grew in my ability to communicate, I became able to define the problems in terms of my character. This helped me grow as a person and gave my story relevance for today’s young adults (and many others), who long for intimacy.

All that practice led to an incredible career. I never dreamed I’d develop and lead an editorial team at a science/faith think tank. As I edited brilliant scientists (one worked on the Mars rover), I learned to identify problems with their writing, and that helped me identify problems with my own.

Crucial events may still be in the making. Although my story starts in the early seventies, this past two years gave my story relevance. COVID, the devastating withdrawal from Afghanistan, the injustice of George Floyd and resulting civil unrest all paralleled problems I experienced as a young adult. As 2020-2021 unfolded, I finally had the scenarios I needed to pull the pieces of my story together.

Your story may be much easier to write. You may be more highly gifted than me—I had to work really hard to learn. But the delays also gave me time to grow and become ready for success should I achieve it. Being visible as an author carries certain responsibilities including putting forth a story worth reading.

The other day I described my story to a beloved relative, who isn’t much of a reader. He said “Wow! That’s my story.” Because I took the time my book needed, it actually carries a message he relates to. And that’s the best kind of success.


An award-winning freelance writer and editor, Patti Townley-Covert is the author of The Windblown Girl: A Memoir about Self, Sexuality, and Social Issues. Concern for young adults trying to escape life’s pain infused this page-turner with a message relevant for today.


Patti’s written numerous magazine articles for national and international publications such as Life Beautiful, HyVee, and Facts and Trends. As a founding member of the anti-human trafficking organization, Every ONE Free, Patti co-wrote Do ONE Thing: Enlisting in the Battle Against Human Trafficking. Now, her bi-weekly blog focuses on justice issues and exchanging cultural lies for truths that have withstood the test of time.


Patti’s done the limbo in the Caribbean, gone on a King Crab Safari in the Arctic Circle, and will soon explore Denali National Park. While at home, she plants pansies and experiments with drought-tolerant gardening.


website: ptcovert.com

Blog: ptcovert.com/blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/patti.townleycovert

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/patti-townley-covert-973b4614/