WILDFIRE! The image conjures up giant flames racing through the woods, driving animals and people before it. It is a destroyer of trees and habitats. Answers.com defines a wildfire as "A wildfire is a raging conflagration that rapidly spreads out of control. It happens most frequently in the summer, when the brush is dry and flames can move unchecked through a wooded area. The fire often begins unnoticed and spreads quickly, lighting brush, trees and homes." The Merriam Webster On-line Dictionary is slightly different at "a sweeping and destructive conflagration especially in a wilderness or a rural area." There is a difference.
There are several different types of fires that can occur. Contained fires are usually camp fires or even the burning of rubbish. They are small and restricted. There are also "prescribed burns", where and area is becoming extremely thick and a large contained fire is used to remove the dead underbrush. This is used to get rid of introduced pests, such as ticks and fire ants, or to prevent wildfires from developing. There are also counter fires which are a type of prescribed burn that is placed around the wildfire as a means of removing debris and fuel to limit or control the wildfire. The wildfire usually results when these other types of fire get out of control.
Wildfires can be started by lightening or spontaneous combustion, but it is rare. The most common source of wildfires is man!
A wildfire is generally characterized by intense heat and rapidly leaping flames that create its own wind though the heat updrafts. leaps into the tops of trees and consumes the forest. That is where the Answers.com definition came. It should be noted that the Merriam Webster definition does not mention trees and bushes, just "a sweeping and destructive conflagration especially in a wilderness or rural area". This is because wild fires can occur in prairie grasslands and do invade residential districts, ask California!
A wildfire is a fire out of control and it can be extremely destructive to the immediate surroundings, and especially to human structures. It is usually caused by man, though contained fires that get out of control or carelessness such as cigarettes, but can have natural causes. It damages the area it hits, but does not destroy it completely, the woods and prairies will come back, and usually so do people! If you hear of a wildfire heading into your area, leave, it is wild and dangerous!