USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
333 SW First Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

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» Fuels, Fire, and Smoke

Protecting public health

2013 Black Forest Fire, Colorado. Photo by US Army
2013 Black Forest Fire, Colorado. Photo by US Army.

Wildfire smoke can result in unhealthy air quality and reduced visibility in transportation corridors, posing a significant threat to public health. Every year, scientists with the station’s AirFire Team, based in Seattle, provide customized smoke dispersion models for wildfires across the country. These projections are used by state and local air quality agencies to guide public health outreach during major fire events. In June, the AirFire Team provided customized smoke information for the Black Forest Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado state history. In 2012, the team generated customized models for fires in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Washington, and California.

Contact: Miriam Rorig



Undaunted by fire

Postfire fungi. Photo by Jane E. Smith
Postfire fungi. Photo by Jane E. Smith.

Postfire logging may help to reduce future fire risk, but harvesting equipment can compact and disturb forest soils. To alleviate compaction, subsoiling (deep tillage) is used to break up the lower soil layer, but it comes with a tradeoff—tillage may degrade soil structure and affect soil microbes. Botanist Jane E. Smith conducted a short-term study to fine-tune postfire treatments that help speed the forest recovery process. She and her colleagues found that soil bacteria and fungi critical to aiding decomposition and nutrient cycling were resilient to timber-harvesting applications. Nutrients critical to soil productivity, however, were reduced.


More Information: The secret life of microbes: soil bacteria and fungi undaunted by the harvesting of fire-killed trees, Science Findings 153


Contact: Jane E. Smith


Formula for extreme fires

Fire dynamics illustration by Martin Alexander and Miguel Cruz
Fire dynamics illustration by Martin Alexander and Miguel Cruz.

Weather, fuel, and topography all interact to contribute to extreme fire behavior. Knowing precisely how these factors interact is critical to fire managers charged with making decisions on the fire line. Research meteorologist Brian Potter and colleagues synthesized the latest science on extreme fire behavior as part of a Joint Fire Science Program project. Volume 1 of the project has been published and presents the latest science on the subject and examines how science is presented to the fire management community, including incident commanders, fire behavior analysts, and firefighters. The synthesis revealed that current training does not include the full extent of scientific understanding, particularly newer research on the influence of wind on fire behavior.

More information: Synthesis of knowledge of extreme fire behavior: volume I for fire managers, PNW-GTR-854


Contact: Brian Potter


Treatment effects

Harvesting in the northeastern Oregon installation of the Fire and Fire Surrogate Study. Photo by Andrew Youngblood
Harvesting in the northeastern Oregon installation of the Fire and Fire Surrogate Study. Photo by Andrew Youngblood

Fuel reduction treatments, like thinning, have the potential to affect ecosystems in ways that go beyond reducing the likelihood of fire. The national Fire and Fire Surrogate (FFS) study was designed to evaluate exactly how treatments influence a variety of ecological effects in dry forests. The study has a common experimental design across the 12-site network, with each site a fully replicated experiment that compares four treatments. Station research forester Andrew Youngblood co-wrote a report that summarizes results from 206 technical articles stemming from the network of study sites. He and his colleagues found that, for most sites, treatments modified stand structures and fuels to the point where posttreatment stands would be expected to be much more resilient to moderate wildfire. The researchers also found that mechanical treatments do not serve as surrogates for fire for most ecosystem components, suggesting that fire could be introduced and maintained as a process in these systems whenever possible.


More information: Principal short-term findings of the national Fire and Fire Surrogate study, PNW-GTR-860

Contact: Andrew Youngblood

Featured Scientist

Jane E. SmithJane E. Smith is a research botanist at the station’s Corvallis Forestry Sciences Laboratory. When most people see a forest, they only see it from the ground up, but where Smith sees trees above, she also sees soil fungi and microbes below, which play a critical role in linking the above- and below-ground components of forest communities. She studies the responses of fungi and other below-ground soil organisms to management practices and disturbances, like fire. Her research helps managers to select fuel-reducing restoration treatments and treatments that maintain critical soil processes. Smith earned a Ph.D. in botany and plant pathology from Oregon State University.


What's New


As fire season ramps up across much of the western United States, InciWeb is a critical resource for incident commanders, reporters, residents, and others in search of near real-time fire information. The inter-agency Web site tracks wildland fires and other fire-related incidents, allowing site visitors to filter incidents across the country by type, state, age, and status.


National Fuels Database

To help resource managers consistently estimate emissions from wildfires in real-time at broad scales, station researchers created national fuel maps at 30-meter and 1-kilometer resolution, using vegetation types generated by the LANDFIRE project. Each of these vegetation types were linked with a Fuel Characteristic Classification System fuelbed to create a publicly available database that can be used in a variety of modeling efforts, from real-time carbon emission calculations to continental-scale simulations of air quality.

For more information:

Contact: Don McKenzie

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,05August2014 at09:40:38CDT

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