In just seconds, a spark or even the sun's heat alone sets off an inferno. The wildfire quickly spreads, consuming the thick, dried-out vegetation and almost everything else in its path. What was once a forest becomes a virtual powder keg of untapped fuel. In a seemingly instantaneous burst, the wildfire overtakes thousands of acres of surrounding land, threatening the homes and lives of many in the vicinity.
Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management/John McColgan
In 2000, this wildfire burned just north of Sula, Montana.
An average of 5 million acres burns every year in the United States, causing millions of dollars in damage. Once a fire begins, it can spread at a rate of up to 14.29 miles per hour (23 kph), consuming everything in its path. As a fire spreads over brush and trees, it may take on a life of its own -- finding ways to keep itself alive, even spawning smaller fires by throwing embers miles away. In this article, we will look at wildfires, exploring how they are born, live and die.