Awhile back I heard on CBC radio about a man who got trapped in a forest fire (surrounded on all sides) and survived. The way he survived was so ridiculous that he was brought to court and almost fined/put in jail: He fought the fire with another fire.

He was in the thick bush with white hot fire closing in the distance. He lit a tree on fire where he was and let it spread. He hit the floor and let his fire blackened all the surrounding trees. Afterwards when the real fire was approaching, it couldn't get to him because of his pocket of burnt trees.

The man claimed back in the day, this was common knowledge.

Does this have any validity / is this the thing to do if surrounded by a forest fire ?

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    This technique was demonstrated on the reality TV show, "Man, Woman, Wild". I have heard of it being used else where as well, pioneers in the 1800s supposedly used this technique when facing prairie fires. Fire fighters use back fires all the time to contain fires. – Wulfhart May 23 '12 at 22:17
  • I couldn't find the article that talked about it or I'd post an answer. But back in the rodeo-chediski fire I remember reading an article about a seasoned forest fighter with about 11 rookies and the winds changed. They all ran but he stopped in a field and started a fire in the field. He tried to explain what he was going and 4 of the rookies stopped to help and the rest kept running. The 5 of them were able to hid in the burn area under some kind of emergency blankets and survive. All went to the ICU but the other 7 weren't so lucky. – MaskedPlant May 25 '12 at 16:25

This does have a basis in a known technique, back burning, but by your description the application wasn't orthodox.

From Wikipedia:

Back burning is a way of reducing the amount of flammable material during a bushfire by starting small fires along a man made or natural firebreak in front of a main fire front. It is called back burning because the small fires are designed to 'burn back towards the main fire front'. The basic reason for back burning is so that there is little material that can burn when the main fire reaches the burnt area. The firebreaks that may be used to start a line of fires along could be a river, road or a bulldozed clearing etc.

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    Thanks, wasn't sure if this was just another old wive's tale. – dudeofea May 17 '12 at 20:50
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    @dudeofea I can't speak for the truth of the particular instance you cite, but back-burning is very common practice for wildland fire-fighting, and a well-known technique for creating safety zones in areas where none exist naturally. It's use in emergency situations was revolutionary in Mann Gulch (so unfamiliar that some firefighters lost their lives because they did not understand what Dodge was doing), but since that incident, every fire-fighter knows this emergency technique, and many carry flares in their packs just for this purpose. – Lost Sep 23 '12 at 5:43
  • Parks Canada tried doing a back burn a couple weeks ago and ended up making things worse and burning down a bunch of ranches. Five homesteads were lost as well as a bunch of out buildings, farm equipment, mot to mention all the feed the cows were supposed to graze on over the winter. – ShemSeger Sep 25 '17 at 1:53

This sounds like an "escape fire" (Wikipedia); see also the Mann Gulch Fire for a real life example.

One of the The Gods Must Be Crazy movies had this technique used in a wildfire in the African savannah.

  • +1 for Mann Gulch reference. However, note there was some controversy about whether the fire he set is what caught up to those trying to make it to the ridge... or whether it mattered. – Lost Jun 8 '12 at 3:03
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    Two key things about an escape fire: 1) it only works against a grass fire, not a forest fire, and 2) it only works if you're close enough to the main fire that the fire's updraft is generating a wind blowing towards it. – Mark Aug 27 '15 at 0:27

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