Objective 2:

Identify and analyze the use of common figures of speech in firefighter stories in order to determine themes and/or patterns about how firefighters view fire in the environment. Analyze the value and meanings that are revealed through the use of tropes and schemes.

Methods: Literary analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis



Common firefighter definitions:

What “good” means to a firefighter:

  • Good fire – the fire was burning actively, with high intensity, and/or had multiple “problem” components (not enough resources, inaccessible terrain, etc.), high complexity (WUI, fuel, weather, etc.).
  • Good shift – the shift was extremely challenging, exhausting/long hours (24+), there was a sense of shared misery, typically resulting in a sense of accomplishment regardless of tangible progress.
  • Good season – significant number of fires, long hours with lots of travel, 1000+ overtime or 120+ days committed to incidents.


  • Head – the most active part (or parts) of the fire / the most rapidly spreading portion of a fire’s perimeter.
  • Flanks – the sides of the fire / the parts of the fire that are roughly parallel to the head (or main direction of spread).
  • Heel – the rear of the fire / typically the location of point-of-ignition or the portion of the opposite the direction of prevailing wind or slope.
  • Finger – long narrow extensions of a fire projecting from the main body.

Fire as a mess:

  • Slopover – a portion of the fire that crosses a control line or natural barrier intended to confine the fire.
  • Mop-up – the process of fully extinguishing the area adjacent to the control lines (or the whole burned area) to ensure current and future containment.

Fire as a display:

  • Show (walk-in show, burn/firing show, hotshot/engine show, direct show) – a phrase for indicating the action (often the most prominent action) taken to control a fire. “The fire was in steep, inaccessible terrain; it was a Hotshot show.”
  • Political smokes – visible smoke from burning material that doesn’t threaten the control of the fire but may cause political or social concern about the fire’s containment. Usually extinguished regardless of overall effectiveness of action. “I’m going to go take care of a political out in the middle of the burn.”

Description of fire event:

  • Campaign Fires – A large, long-term interagency wildland fire incident.
  • Project Fires – A large, long-term interagency wildland fire incident – often with extensive indirect fireline used as a primary strategy.
  • Fire Siege – Multiple fires that occur during an extended period of time within a confined geographical area. “California Fire Siege of ’07.”
  • Complex – Multiple fires that are often under the command of one incident management team.

Description of fuel/landscape:

  • Dog hair thickets – phrase that described an area of think, young trees.
  • Explosive (fuel) – highly volatile fuel types, such as chaparral, or fuels that demonstrate rapid combustion due to current conditions (such as drought stressed fuels).
  • Steep, nasty terrain – Terrain features that include slope and fuels that make traversing difficult.
  • Huge toad / Big ole hog (trees) – Large trees. Usually referred to as such when sizing up a tree for a felling operaiton.

Actual Quotes
…it was amazing, we had a pretty intense wall of flame coming at us, it stood up in the crowns; we had a running crown fire coming at us.
Blow up/blows out/blew up,out,by/blasted
The day we got in there, the fire blew up and ran, I think, 10 miles that day…
But this thing got so big, it basically looks like a tornado and it ran around chasing a bunch of crews all over the place…
We showed up on a fire and it’s already 10 to 50 acres, cranking in PJ (Pinyon-Juniper)…
Lays down/laid down
…once it made that big push to the top, it got in there and just kind of laid down, just kind of skunked around a little bit.
Ripped/it’ll rip
…the fire just blew up and ripped through that drainage, and we pretty much never saw it again.
…it came up out of it bottom and just nuked over everything and cleaned it up. Just moonscaped it.

Additional Descriptors
Pushing down/made a push
Wall of flame
Skulking around
Getting away from them/got away from us
Died down
[The fire] cleans up [the forest floor]
Pulsing down
Took out [homes]/took off
Stood up
Mowed down [trees]
Chunking off
Putting up a header
[The fire] will just eat it up/ Gobble up [trees]
Bombing [towards the line]
Anvil-ed out


Actual Quotes
Catch/catching/caught [the fire]
We lost our burn area, it blew by our line –or it spotted over– and there were way too many [spotfires] for us to catch it.
Chasing [a fire/spots]
Those are always the most intense –and the most fun, and the most sweat, the most adrenalin rush– when you’re chasing a grass fire, trying to keep up with it as you see it running up the hill…
Punching line
We wake up and just start going to work and punching line down this ridge.
Beating/smacking down/knocking down/knocking out [the fire]
…it threw some spots over to the other side. We had helicopters and air tankers working it at the top and they pretty much knocked that out.
Put it to bed/put the fire away/seal the deal
We were going to burn this road out and then…hand it off to another crew and then they were going to hand it off to another crew, and we were going to put this fire away, put it to bed
Flanking [the fire]
It was steep, you know, we were just chasing that fire, we were flanking the fire.
Throw(ing) fire
…you’re actually walking around throwing fire into the trees, trying to get the black spruce to burn. As soon as it does, it just takes off, just like a rocket, through those trees.

Additional Descriptors
Corralled/corralling [the fire]
Blow holes through the canopy/blowing the canopy open
Slick off a hillside
Nuke/nuking [an area within the fire]
Lose/lost [the fire]
Buttoning up [the fire]
Ripped/rip [a fire area]
Moonscaping it/make it look like the moon
Auger in
Seal the deal
Hooking it
Torched off [a fire area]
Motor out of [the fire area]
Running and gunning

Excerpt from story (1:24):
It was cranking, it was just… It’s unbelievable how much land a fire can cover, even at night. You would think it would die down quite a bit, sometimes –the majority of the time– it does. But sometimes it’ll just rip all through the night. Especially when it gets established in the bottom of a drainage at night; it will just eat it up.

How do you perceive the role of fire in the environment?
I think we’ve just suppressed it so long it’s making it hard to manage now and the prescribed fires we do around certain values, whether it be with giant sequoias and all that stuff, is good but it’s almost like we can’t catch up to what’s overgrown…I like suppressing fires, it’s fun, but I think managing them to meet objectives is better.

Excerpt from story (1:31):
Then we started to see and it’s like these big, sort of steep but still rolling hills and we start to see this smoke come up from below where we had started and then we just see this wall of flame like shoot up, paralleling the line that we had been cold trailing and just…But it just, you know, just a wall of flame, like “where the fuck did that come from” and, you know, it was just because they had just missed something really, that crew below us had missed something I really minor and it had completely blown out. Like I said, extremely volatile… But it’s in that really cool fuel type that, you know, you get the spectacular burnouts and it looks like the world is coming to an end and then it’s all totally over, like within seconds.

How do you perceive the role of fire in the environment?
I think that fire is completely necessary to the environment and I personally view homes as another fuel type. I think that, especially in places like Region Five where I just came from, down in Southern California, for instance, that area is tremendously fire adapted. It’s just part of what all of the plants in that environment are designed to do. I think that’s a situation where not only does it belong in the environment, but we’re never going to be able to subtract it from that environment…So, I think that fire’s role in the environment is really crucial and I also think that years of fire suppression is causing a lot of really extreme fire behavior and it’s making fire way more destructive than it would be, had a natural burn cycle been allowed to occur.

Excerpt from story (1:02):
We had one last year, I think it was, near the Dakotas –on the borderline of Montana and the Dakotas– and it was a rager. There were 70 foot flame lengths off the grass and [it] probably had a 60 to 70 mile an hour wind behind it, just pushing it all different directions. A lot of chaos for sure. There were homes involved, I mean, a huge wall of flames just slams right into a bunch of homes; luckily they didn’t burn down, we had a lot of resources there that were prepared for it.

How do you perceive the role of fire in the environment?
It’s definitely a part of the environment and it needs to continue to be part of it…Your forest isn’t supposed to look super thick and dense, there’s supposed to be space between the trees for them to grow… That’s nature, when we went around doing all the prescribed fires and thinning, [it’s similar to when] lightning fires started — fires ran through the forest and that’s how nature created them, in a sense.


Excerpt from story (2:57):
Once it got established down there, it made a big push to the top of the ridge and then just petered, you know, it threw some spots over to the other side. We had helicopters and air tankers working that top and they pretty much knocked that out. The biggest thing was just taking care of the flanks. It was steep, it was nasty…It was good living in there, the fire moved well in that – it was surprising. But once it made that big push to the top, it got in there and just kind of laid down, just kind of skunked around a little bit once nightfall came in, and we got to go in there and do some good work.

How do you perceive the role of fire in the environment?
It needs to be in the environment and we all know that we do a really good job of putting fires out. We’re really good at that job. And with that has brought on all the fuel loading and the unhealthy forests, and things of that nature. I know for me, there’re times when we go into a fire and the team and the forest and the locals and everybody, they want the fire out. They don’t want to deal with the smoke, they don’t want to deal with whatever –all the stuff that comes with a fire– they don’t want to deal with it. But when you get out on the ground and see what the fire is doing, it’s doing nothing but good…I would love to see a lot more fire, especially the ones that are doing good — just let them burn, we’ll deal with the smoke. An old Fuels guy I used to work for, when I worked on the Mendocino, told me, “everything gets treated eventually.” It’s just, is it under your terms? Or, is it under Mother Nature’s terms?

 Thesis Presentation Main