Last modified on Oct 14, 2016

Fire Terminology

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Any building used as an accessory to residential, commercial, recreational, industrial, or educational purposes as defined in the latest adopted edition of the California Building Code, Group U, Division I, Occupancy that requires a building permit.


Land used for agricultural purposes as defined in a local jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance.


Air attack planes fly over an incident, providing tactical coordination with the incident commander on the ground, and directing airtankers and helicopters to critical areas of a fire for retardant and water drops. CAL FIRE uses the OV-10As for its air attack missions.


CAL FIRE uses its S-2T airtankers for fast initial attack delivery of fire retardant on wildland fires. The S-2T carries 1200 gallons of retardant and has a crew of one – the pilot.


"Amador Plan´ (Local Government Pays CAL FIRE for Services During Winter/Non-Fire Season). This allows local agencies to contract with CAL FIRE for local agency fire protection services during the "non-fire" season period.


Any structure used or intended for supporting or sheltering any use or occupancy that is defined in the California Building Code, 1994 Amendments, Chapter 2.


California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.


A CAL FIRE crew strike team consists of a strike team leader, and two fire crews. All CAL FIRE fire crews are Type I crews. These crews are highly trained wildland firefighters and are fully equipped to respond to wildland fires anywhere in the state with minimal support. Each fire crew carries enough supplies and food to last for about two days. The only additional support that would be needed is drinking water and fuel for chainsaws. The minimum staffing for a Type I crew strike team is 30 firefighters.


CAL FIRE maintains 196 fire crews, housed in 39 Conservation Camps throughout the state. A CAL FIRE fire crew consists of a fire captain and 15 to 17 firefighters. The firefighters that make up these crews are minimum-security inmates and wards from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). These fire crews are directly supervised by a CAL FIRE fire captain. CAL FIRE fire crews are the infantry of the Department’s firefighting “ground attack” resources. Their primary function is to construct fire line by hand in areas where heavy machinery cannot be used because of steep topography, rocky terrain, or areas that may be considered environmentally sensitive.


See CAL FIRE


California Environmental Quality Act.


Space cleared of vegetation as required by law, regulation, easement, etc., for the purpose of preventing fires.


Application of specific codes based on statutory mandated conducted through inspection.


A fire is contained when it is surrounded on all sides by some kind of boundary but is still burning and has the potential to jump a boundary line. The boundary may be a “fire line” which is a strip of area where the vegetation has been removed to deny the fire fuel, or a river, a freeway or some other barrier which is expected to stop the fire. Hose lines from fire engines may also contribute to a fire being surrounded and contained. A fire is controlled when there is no further threat of it jumping a containment line. While crews continue to do mop-up work within the fire lines, the fire fight is over.


In California, the six counties that provide fire-prevention services in state responsibility areas under contract with the state. These counties are Marin, Kern, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange.


Contract Counties (CAL FIRE Pays Local Government for Services) Section 4133 of the Public Resources Code and Section 55607 of the Government Code permit the CAL FIRE Director to contract with counties for protection of State Responsibility Area (SRA). The counties of Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura have assumed this responsibility.


Amount of economic loss, including cost of fire suppression.


A road that has only one point of vehicular ingress/egress, including cul-de-sacs and looped roads.


By creating a fire safe landscape of at least 100 feet around your house, you will reduce the chance of a wildfire spreading onto your property and burning through to your home. This is the basis for creating a "defensible space" - an area that will help protect your home and provide a safety zone for the firefighters who are battling the flames. Clearing all flammable vegetation a minimum of 100 feet around your home and other structures will not only provide you with the greatest chance for survival, it is also required by California law.


An area either natural or manmade where material capable of causing a fire to spread unchecked has been treated, cleared, reduced or changed in order to act as barrier between the advancing wildfire and the loss to life, property or resources. This concept is vital for firefighter safety and provides the single significant element of protection of individual property owners. Adequate space (free from flammable vegetation) between structures and flammable vegetation, which allows firefighters a safe working area within which to attack an oncoming wildfire, or the area within the perimeter of a parcel, development, neighborhood or community where basic wildland fire protection practices and measures are implemented, providing the key point of defense from an approaching wildfire or defense against encroaching wildfires or escaping structure fires, or The perimeter as used in this regulation is the area encompassing the parcel or parcels proposed for construction and/or development, excluding the physical structure itself. The establishment and maintenance of emergency vehicle access, emergency water reserves, street names and building identification, and fuel modification measures characterize the area.


The uses to which the land, which is the subject of a map, shall be put, the buildings to be constructed on, and all alterations of the land and construction incident thereto (GC 66418.1).


Director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection or his/her designee.


A dozer strike team consists of two dozers, a dozer tender, and a leader (a dozer tender carries extra supplies such as oil, tools, etc.).


A vehicular access that serves no more than two buildings, with no more than three dwelling units on a single parcel, and any number of accessory buildings.


Partially decayed leaves, needles, grass or other organic material accumulated on the ground.


Any building or portion thereof which contains living facilities, including provisions for sleeping, eating, cooking and/or sanitation for not more than one family.


A right afforded a person to make limited use of another’s real property.


An engine strike team consists of five fire engines of the same type and a lead vehicle. There are three or four personnel on each engine and one or two personnel in the lead vehicle. The strike team leader is usually a captain or a battalion chief.


An alternative to the specified standard requested by the applicant that may be necessary due to health, safety, environmental conditions, physical site limitations or other limiting conditions such as recorded historical sites, that provides mitigation of the problem.


Does not require clearance of flammable vegetation.


Extended attack means that the fire has burned beyond the area or building of origin, and beyond the initial attack phase, and additional resources are called. If the fire cannot be confined in the area or building of origin even with a substantial addition of resources, and a long-term resource commitment and logistical support will be required, then it is considered a major attack or a major fire.


The rapid oxidation of a fuel resulting in the release of heat, light and other byproducts.


The discipline of using the principles of fire behavior and its effects on life or materials to create appropriate controls on the use of fire, or to resist its ignition and spread.


Dangerous accumulation of flammable fuels in wildland areas usually referring to vegetation or the flammable materials that may be ignited by the various fire risks or cause fires to increase in intensity or rate of spread.


A tactical, site specific measurement of the factors which affect fire behavior, fire suppression capability and effectiveness, structure survivability in a wildfire situation, firefighter and resident safety, etc. (Harrell).


A broad, strategic analysis whicassessment parameters, focuses more on a matrix of fuels, slope and weather (The Fire Environment), which pose a conflagration potential an influenced by fuel bed continuity, access, open space, proximity to other hazardous areas, etc. “Fire Hazard Classification” is an integral part of the State Fire Plan (Harrell). h, while using many of the


Various methods by which existing fire hazards can be reduced in a certain area, such as fuel breaks, non-combustible roofing, chimney screens, etc.


A planning and regulatory activity (typically conducted by a local agency such as a city or county) which provides criteria for what kinds, how many and under what conditions development or other activities should be regulated in areas of various hazard classification (Harrell).


The distribution of information to the media on ongoing fires.


The business process used to define values at risk, focus efforts to mitigate potential losses; a framework for minimizing losses.


The practices used to keep the combination of heat, fuel and oxidizer from continuing to threaten life or property.


The development and distribution of policy, practices and publication procedures to targeted user groups in order for them to take appropriate action through behavior modification.


The actions taken by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to assure that acts, omissions or specific environment requirements set forth in statutes or regulations are cohered to by those being held responsible.


Codes and Standards; Data Collection; Grants; Education; Land Use Planning; and Licensing, Listing, and Certification. Also, includes ignition management to reduce large loss and damage.


The use of fire engineering, education and enforcement principles to support the practices to reduce the probability of consequence from unwanted fires.


Examination of specific topics and data that have not been evaluated thoroughly, in order to prescribe future engineering, education or enforcement needs.


The policies, practices and procedures used to limit fire losses in specific targeted areas using of all alternatives to minimize losses.


Development of the infrastructure to respond effectively once a fire occurs.


A source of ignition of fire hazards.


Environment created in and around a building to resist the intrusion of fire.


The use of fire prevention engineering practices to reduce fuels, create access and reduce potential of ignition.


That portion of the year, generally 6 to 8 months in the summer and fall in California, declared such by the responsible public agency fire administrator. Declaration is based on fuel and weather conditions conducive to the ignition and spread of wildland fires.


Any natural or constructed barrier utilized to segregate, stop and control the spread of fire or to provide a control line from which to work.


Combustible and capable of being easily set on fire or kindled.


An area where the volume of flammable vegetation has been reduced, providing reduced fire intensity and duration.


Strip from which forest fuels and woody vegetation have been reduced by thinning, pruning or removal well ahead of time to slow down or stop a wildfire or to provide a control line from which to work.


A facility or land use designed for a use other than fire protection, which will slow or resist the spread of a wildfire. Includes parking lots, irrigated or landscaped areas, golf courses, parks, playgrounds, and maintained vineyards, orchards or annual crops that do not cure in the field.


A roadway that provides a “T” shaped, three-point turnaround space for emergency equipment, being no narrower than the road that serves it.


CAL FIRE uses its Super Huey helicopters for fast initial attack on wildfires. The copters are able to quickly deliver a nine-person fire crew wherever needed as well as battle fires with water/foam drops. The copters are also used for medical evacuations, backfiring operations on wildland fires, to ignite prescribed burns using either a helitorch or a ping-pong ball machine - Chemical Ignition Device System (CIDS), cargo transport (internal and external loads), re-seeding operations, infra-red mapping of incidents, and numerous non-fire emergency missions. Since 1997, CAL FIRE helicopter crews have been trained to do "short haul" rescues. Short haul involves a crew member being lowered from a hovering helicopter to an injured or trapped person below. Once hooked to a harness or basket, both the victim and crew member are then carried a short distance to safety.


Arrangement of connected lengths of fire hose and accessories on the ground, beginning at the first pumping unit and ending at the point of water delivery.


Casual reference to wildland interface and/or intermix.


Includes fire prevention program activities that are aimed at preventing the ignition of wildland fires and/or reducing damage from fires. Components include law enforcement, public education, engineering, fuels modification, and fire-safe planning.


A formal process of analyzing and prioritizing ignitions which identifies those ignitions that are most likely to become large and/or damaging fires.


An incident base is the command and control location for all personnel and equipment working an incident. Incident bases are set up within a close but safe proximity to the incident. The incident base is similar to a small city complete with sleeping areas, feeding areas, toilets, showers, and equipment repair facilities.


Initial attack means the first attack on the fire. The number of resources sent on the first dispatch to a wildfire depends upon the location of the fire, the fuels in the area (vegetation, timber, homes, etc) and current weather conditions. Municipal fire departments would call this the first alarm. Most fires are caught within the first burn period (the first two hours). Therefore, the vast majority of the fires CAL FIRE responds to are considered initial attack fires.


The geographical meeting point of two diverse systems, wildland and structures. At this interface, structures and vegetation are sufficiently close that a wildland fire could spread to structures or a structure fire ignites vegetation.


Interspersing of developed land with wildland, where there are no easily discernible boundaries between the two systems. An example would be what real estate brochures describe as “ranchettes” or “weekend farmer” homes. This poses more problems in wildland fire management than interface.


The scattering or intermixing of structures with natural vegetation. In this type of interface, there are no clearly defined boundaries.


Action taken to hold accountable those who do not comply with codes/laws (civil/criminal actions).


Any county, city/county agency or department, or any locally authorized district that issues or approves building permits, use permits, tentative maps or tentative parcel maps, or has authority to regulate development and construction activity.


The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has developed Major Incident Command Teams (ICT) to manage large complex incidents. CAL FIRE maintains 10 Incident Command Teams, five in the Northern Region and five in the Southern Region. Each day of the year two CAL FIRE Incident Command Teams are ready for deployment anywhere in the state, or outside of California if requested.

A Major Incident Command Team consists of 16 highly trained and certified individuals and 10 trainees that, as a team, provide incident management skills for any type of disaster, regardless of location. Each team includes members with the experience and skills to fill responsibilities including incident commander, planning, finance, logistics, safety, information, and air operations to name a few.

The CAL FIRE MICT works under the direction of the local jurisdiction having statutory responsibility for the incident. If it is a wildland fire on State Responsibility Area (SRA) then CAL FIRE is the lead for all activities in the suppression effort. If a wildland fire were to occur on both SRA and federal lands, then a unified command may occur. If, however, it is an earthquake or hazardous materials spill within an urban area, CAL FIRE may be called in to assist in the management of the incident, but the overall lead would be the local agency of jurisdiction.

CAL FIRE MICTs manage large complex wildland fires on a regular basis as well as major hazardous materials incidents, flood fighting operations, earthquakes and other incidents or activities needing a management structure.



A scientifically developed system for estimating degree of fire hazard, risk and burning intensity expressed numerically for broad areas.


The purpose of which a building, or part thereof, is used or intended to be used.


Damage Evaluation, Damage Assessment and Recovery.


Actions taken prior to the ignition of a fire to affect the fire’s behavior or impact.


The comprehensive application of safety, fire prevention, and fire hazard reduction techniques aimed to prevent the ignition of wildland fires, prevent the damage fires can cause, reduce the costs of suppressing the fires and improving forest health.


Activities undertaken in advance of fire occurrence to help ensure more efficient fire suppression. It includes over-all planning, recruitment and training of fire personnel, procurement and maintenance of fir fighting equipment and supplies, and creating maintaining, and improving a system of fuel-breaks, roads, water sources, and control lines.


Efforts to identify specifics where actions should be taken to have the most effect on potential fires.


Controlled application of fire to wildland fuels, in either their natural or modified state, under conditions of weather, fuel moisture, soil moisture, etc., as to allow the fire to be confined to a predetermined area and at the same time to produce results to meet planned objectives of land management.


A list of activities developed to solve an identified problem or need. A prescription will include: 1) what will be done, 2) when it will be done, 3) where it will be done, 4) who will do it, and 5) the estimated cost. Prescriptions will normally be associated only with targeted fire prevention activities.


The distribution of information to influence the behavior of the general public.


Distribution of information regarding ongoing department activities and proclamation, advisories and education messages.


This is a 7-1/2 minute quadrangles overlay grid system to facilitate the Fire Environmental Assessment process. 9 columns and 9 rows divide the 7-1/2 minute quadrangles. The resultant cells are approximately 450 acres in size. Grid cell size gives adequate level of resolution for setting unit and statewide priorities.


A warning system for notification of the public and industry that extreme fire conditions are eminent or in effect.


The strip of land of varying width on which the tracks and other operating installations are placed and over which the operating company has some degree of control, by either deed, easement or special use permit or the right to pass over property owned by another party. The path or thoroughfare on which such passage is made.


The likelihood of a wildfire ignition. This is normally a result of the activities of people.


Potential for ignition of fuels or an ignition agent.


Any surface designed, improved, or ordinarily used for vehicle travel.


Bridges, culverts, and other appurtenant structures that supplement the roadway bed or shoulders.


Where rural development and the wildland meet and intermix with no clearly defined separation or interface. The foothill and mountain developments in central and northern California are good examples. This may include small communities or rural sprawl around a community.


An exception or alternative with the capability of applying accepted wildland fire suppression strategies and tactics, and provisions for firefighter safety, including: a) access for emergency wildland fire equipment; b) safe civilian evacuation; c) signing that avoids delays in emergency equipment response; d) available and accessible water to effectively attack wildfire or defend a structure from wildfire; and e) fuel modification sufficient for civilian and firefighter safety.


Schedule A (Local Government Pays for CAL FIRE Services). Public Resources Code 4142 allows CAL FIRE to provide fire protectioin/emergency services to local governments under contracts.


A device that traps or pulverized exhaust carbon particles to a size below 0.023 inch in diameter, as they are expelled from an exhaust system. A spark arrester system includes the following components: Internal, combustion engine, internal parts, external parts (bumper spikes, wrap-around handle bar, chain brakes, covers, muffler, and spark arrester).


Any person, agency or organization with a particular interest – a stake – in fire safety and protection of assets from wildland fires.


A nine-member board appointed by the Governor, which is responsible for developing the general forest policy of the State, for determining the guidance policies of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and for representing the State’s interest in federal land in California.


The State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection classifies areas in which the primary financial responsibility for preventing and suppressing fires is that of the state. These include: lands covered wholly or in part by timber, brush, undergrowth or grass, whether of commercial value or not; lands which protect the soil from erosion, retard run-off of water or accelerated percolation; lands used principally for range or forage purposes; lands not owned by the Federal government; and lands not incorporated. By Board regulations, unless specific circumstances dictate otherwise, lands are removed from SRA when housing densities average more than 3 units per acre over an area of 250 acres. CAL FIRE has SRA responsibility for the protection of over 31 million acres of California´s privately-owned wildlands.


Areas of the State in which the financial responsibility of preventing and suppressing fires has been determined by the State Board of Forestry pursuant to PRC 4125, to be primarily the responsibility of the State (PRC 4102).


That which is built or constructed, an edifice or building of any kind, or any piece of work artificially built up or composed of parts joined together in some definite manner.


A roadway, unobstructed by parking, which allows for a safe opposite change of direction for emergency equipment. Design of such area may be a hammerhead/T or terminus bulb.


A widening in a roadway to allow vehicles to pass.


Any fire that threatens to destroy life, property or natural resources, and either is not burning within the confines of firebreaks, or is burning with such intensity that it cannot be readily extinguished with ordinary tools commonly available.


Small trees (seedlings, saplings, pole-sized) growing under a canopy of large, more or less mature trees.


Operational unit of the CAL FIRE. There are 21 within the State.


The values at risk - what can be destroyed by a wildland fire. Value includes market (quantifiable) values and non-market values such as rare and endangered species, visual aspects, etc. Timber resource losses and potential improvement losses should be considered as market values.


The minimum specified height of a bridge or overhead projection above the roadway.


As defined in Public Resources Code Sections 4103 and 4104. Wildland: Uncultivated land, other than fallow, neglected or maintained for such purposes as wood or range-forage production, wildlife, recreation, protective watershed cover or wilderness.


Any fire occurring on undeveloped land.


Refers to the geographical point where flammable vegetation meets man-made structures.


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