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I would imagine that 山火 meant "a fire in the mountains", but the dictionary lists "wildfire / forest fire".

Is 山火 then a generic word for an out of control fire? What about 野火? I saw 山火 on the news, does that mean it is more formal? Wikipedia seems to use 丛林大火, is this another word for the same thing?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

These words are all straight-forward in Chinese:

  • 山火 = mountain fire
  • 野火 = fire in the fields
  • 丛林大火 = jungle fire
  • Forest fire = 森林大火, or 林火
  • Forest fire on a mountain (explicit) = 山林大火

Note 丛林 means jungle/bush; Forest in general is translated into 森林; 野 in 野火 means 田野(field) rather than 狂野(out of control), but even many native speakers misunderstood.

So to answer your question,

  1. 山火 is not a generic word for out-of-control fire. It means mountain fire.
  2. 野火 means fire in the fields. It sounds a little less formal than the other words but still fine to use. News broadcaster may choose long form 田野大火 or 山野大火。
  3. 丛林大火 means jungle fire.
  4. When you want to say 'fires in a forest on a mountain', any of the following is fine: 山火,林火,森林大火,山林大火。
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In term of the bushfire that is happening in Australia, 丛林大火 is more appropriate because it doesn't happen in mountainous areas actually, so we won't use 山火 in this context which specifically means the fires on mountains.

We could say the 丛林大火 is caused by 野火 which implies that no one burns the bushes and hot weather is probably the reason.

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