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Talking to your kids about Wildfires

The monsoons are nowhere to be seen here in Colorado. We had about a week of moisture this summer but it has been really dry since. There are large fires burning in multiple places around our state and the smoke has been moving in and out of the area.

As adults, wildfires are frightening. We are fortunate to have tools to manage our knowledge about wildfires. Social media, updated fire maps, and live media coverage keep us in the know on the spread, direction of travel, and any warnings or alerts we need to be aware of. Even with all of this information, the smell of fire in the air gives me goosebumps.

For kids, wildfires are a whole new monster under the bed. If you are living in, or visiting, an area with active wildfires, it is helpful to be able to talk with you kids about wildfires and to distill down the information for them into something more manageable for their imaginations. They are bound to hear something on TV or through adult conversation - get ahead of the information and give them so facts to help them understand what is going on.

What is a wildfire?

A wildfire is a fire that is burning in nature. It can be a forest fire (in the forest), a grass fire, a brush fire, or a hill fire.

Fun Fact: Wildfires are not all bad! When a fire is caused by lightening and is burning in an area where there are no homes and people, it can be good for the earth. It helps to get rid of dead trees, can spread seeds, and the ash left behind adds nutrients to the soil that allows new trees and plants to grow. It is part of the life-cycle of the forest.

How does a wildfire start?

Some wildfires start naturally by lightening. Most fires are started by humans. One of the major causes of wildfires are campfires that have not been fully put out (extinguished). This accounts for around 80% of all wildfires.

What causes a wildfire to grow?

Fires grow when there is a lot of fuel for them to burn. Dead, dry trees and grasses are favorite "food" for the fires. Fires also need a lot of oxygen which comes from the air. When the wind is strong, it can blow the flames onto other trees and grasses and also gives the fire more oxygen to make it grow.

Can we stop a wildfire?

There are specially trained fire fighters called "wildland firefighters" who will come help to control the fire. They work on the ground with tools and machines to get rid of all the fuel (dead trees and grasses) so that the fire can't grow. This is called creating a fire break.

For really big fires or fires in really rough terrain, airplanes and helicopters will help the fire fighters. They can carry water to dump on the flames. Some planes carry a special mix called a "slurry" which they spread in front of the fire to draw a line that it cannot go past.

Will it burn my house?

We do everything we can to protect our homes when there is a wildfire nearby. Firefighters will help to protect homes as well. It is important to keep a "defensible space" (like a force-field) around our homes so that the fire doesn't have any fuel to get close to our house. Cutting down branches and trees and making sure our yards are clear of fire fuel will help protect our home. If a fire is too close to home we will leave with our whole family to be somewhere safe.

Here is a link to some fun wildfire activities and information for kids:

Smokey the Bear for Kids

If you as an adult are interested in learning more about wildfires and what goes into fighting them, I highly recommend the book Wild Fire - On the Front Lines with Station 8. I am reading it as we speak and it is fascinating. It is centered on Station 8 - the wildland fire fighters in Boulder, and goes into the weeds on wildfires and how they are managed.

If you are camping this summer, protect our forests and make sure your fires are COMPLETELY out. Drown, stir, feel.

Stay Wild and Free!


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