Leaf blower as a firefighting tool

Manchester leaf blowers
A photo from the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website showing firefighters using leaf blowers on a grass fire.

On one of the pages of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service website that features wildfires, there is some praise for their “new Forced Air Firefighting Units (FAFU)”, also known as leaf blowers:

Manchester leaf blower

Though they may be new to firefighters in the United Kingdom, leaf blowers have been used on fires in the southeast United States for decades. I have had a little experience with them and found that they can be very useful for building fireline in hardwood litter. A brief trial in directly controlling an active fire found that they can be tricky to use. You have to be very careful where you point that high-velocity stream of air because burning embers are constantly in motion and when airborne they can sometimes land in an undesired location. And wind direction is key.

I’d like to hear from firefighters that have experience using leaf blowers in a fire management operation.

Typos, let us know HERE. And, please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

14 thoughts on “Leaf blower as a firefighting tool”

  1. In parts of Region 8 and 9 the backpack leaf blower is a very useful tool. Nothing beats them for line construction and production rates in hardwood leaf litter. On initial attack, a leaf blower paired with a sawyer/swamper can quickly anchor and flank in many cases. Multiple blowers can be used to increase line size for Rx line prep. The blower also does a good job of pushing smaller woody debris off the line. You are very correct in that care most be taken as to where the air is being directed.

    1. Yes here in North Carolina we often use them in initial attack to put out a “Contain line” in hardwood litter. These are very fast and can gain control of a fire rather quickly. These however don’t get you “Containment line” to put the fire completely out. Hand line to mineral soil is still a must. The best place these are used here is in old logging skid trails where there is a absence of the duff layer. The going government price for the Stihl 600 which can blow 210 mph is $425.00 each.

  2. Greatest idea ever. Now if my R1 rototiller strike team idea ever takes off….line construction will be faster than a type 1 crew or booster of bros.

  3. I see the link is down – I’ll email the picture of an Australian fire fighter using a blower in the October 2009 wildfires.

  4. Yep, I have one on all of the trucks in my county. They work great in hardwood litter. We’ll put in line and follow up with rakes to get down to bare mineral soil. Or use it to widen existing hand line or prep around structures. They will allow you to have a lot less people raking if you can remove the leaf litter ahead of the handcrews. Strap a shelter to the bottom or some Web gear will work under the blower and off you go.

  5. I’m another one in the Southeast. I’d never have an engine without a blower on it. Typically we use it to clear needle cast and hardwood litter. Many times we use it on initial attack and only need one or two people behind the blower to build solid line.

    We’re building a brand new team here and we bought a Stihl Br 600 before I got my Type VI outfitted!

    Be safe everyone

  6. I agree the blowers work great in hardwood litter fires , we’ve found it’s helpful to have a “blower boss” especially if more than 1 is being used as they are so loud that no one around can hear much and the folks running the blowers are zeroed in on their little piece of real estate at the end of the blower. They can also expedite line building/holding behind a tractor plow by blowing the green side of the plow line which minimizes spotting potential. – BW

  7. With all the hardwood litter discussion, I feel compelled to give a blower credit in grass fuel types as well. They work great in prescribed fire operations in tall and short grasses here in Kansas. During ignitions, they can be used drive the fire where you want it and it needs a little help after the primary ignition device has gone through. Then during mop up they are awesome to really kick up the heat, especially in the duffy grass, to identify the hotspots to cool off. Haven’t had much of a chance to use them in IA, but when we can’t get a Type VI or even a UTV into a rough spot, one of these mixed into the tool complement (backpack pump and rake) work really well. They’re also handy in pile burning as a “power bellows”!

    1. Yeah, but the linked page sure seems to be saying that they’re using them for direct attack.

      “The FAFU works in three ways:

      The forced air cools the surrounding flammable gases so they won’t ignite
      The air dilutes the gases
      The speed of the air forces other flammable gases away”

      I think that in most wildfire and p-burn situations you’d end up with a FASFGU (Forced Air Spot Spot Fire Generating Unit).

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