A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire in an area of combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Other names such as bush fire, forest fire, desert fire, grass fire, hill fire, peat fire, vegetation fire, and veldfire may be used to describe the same phenomenon depending on the type of vegetation being burned, and the regional variant of English being used. A wildfire differs from other fires by its extensive size, the speed at which it can spread out from its original source, its potential to change direction unexpectedly, and its ability to jump gaps such as roads, rivers and fire breaks. Wildfires are characterized in terms of the cause of ignition, their physical properties such as speed of propagation, the combustible material present, and the effect of weather on the fire.
Wildfires are a common occurrence in Australia; because of the generally hot and dry climate, they pose a great risk to life and infrastructure during all times of the year, though mostly throughout the hotter months of summer and spring. In the United States, there are typically between 60,000 and 80,000 wildfires that occur each year, burning 3 million to 10 million acres of land depending on the year. Fossil records and human history contain accounts of wildfires, as wildfires can occur in periodic intervals. Wildfires can cause extensive damage, both to property and human life, but they also have various beneficial effects on wilderness areas. Some plant species depend on the effects of fire for growth and reproduction, although large wildfires may also have negative ecological effects.
Strategies of wildfire prevention, detection, and suppression have varied over the years, and international wildfire management experts encourage further development of technology and research. One of the more controversial techniques is controlled burning: permitting or even igniting smaller fires to minimize the amount of flammable material available for a potential wildfire. While some wildfires burn in remote forested regions, they can cause extensive destruction of homes and other property located in the wildland-urban interface: a zone of transition between developed areas and undeveloped wilderness.