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Water or Fire Retardant, Which Is Best?

It depends on the situation and what you want to accomplish.

One of the mainstays of wildland firefighting is aerial tankers dropping water or fire retardant on forest and other wildland fires.

I moderated a wildland fire session at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) Annual Summit in August.

One of the things I learned from that experience was about the use of water or fire retardant as a tool for fighting wildland fires.

Here’s the deal: Water is used for direct attack, meaning you drop water on the flames themselves where they are burning to suppress the fire.

Fire retardant (the red material we see being disbursed by flying tankers) is for building a fire line ahead of the fire, much as a bulldozer does on the ground. The retardant is meant to contain the fire and let it burn out within a specific area. You don’t dump retardant on an actively burning area.

So, now you know!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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