Although the Forest Fire Laboratory wasn't opened until 1963, related re-search was underway in California decades earlier. As early as 1898, Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the Forest Service, directed studies on the nature and effects of Southern California fires. Then in 1910, a disastrous fire season focused attention on the need for fire research. At a nearby area, now the San Dimas Experimental Forest, scientists stationed at Glendora, CA, carried out fire effects and hydrologic studies starting in 1930. Since the earliest National Forests in the nation were created to protect against watershed damage from fire and land management activities, this early research was important in guiding land management policies.
Fire Research Becomes the Focus
When the California Experiment Station (as the Station was then called) opened in Berkeley, California in 1926, studies were added on combustion, fire prevention, fire protection standards, and fire organization.
During World War II, fire research was slowed significantly. But following the War, the fire research program grew to international importance. The Forest Service and other fire organizations took on ambitious, multiagency projects. The Nation's concern with defense against massive fires generated during wartime led to involving the Forest Service in such projects as FIRESTOP and FLAMBEAU.
A Centralized, Integrated Program
As the fire research program expanded, it became evident that a center devoted to fire research in the West was needed. In 1960, Congress appropriated the funds for a Western Forest Fire Laboratory and the dedication took place on September 11, 1963. This new facility was staffed with an outstanding group of scientists and support personnel. The large-scale,
multiagency programs and new technologies they developed are now successfully used on the ground. You'll find several of
these pictured in the "Research In Action" section of this brochure. In recent years, the research emphasis has shifted to the integration of fire management with other resource management problems.
Population Impacts on Western Forests
In more recent years, the population explosion in the western United States added two major research areas to the mission of the Fire Laboratory which are of national importance. The increase in population has caused smog problems in the mountains of the West Coast. Pioneering research on the effects of smog on forest trees was done at this laboratory. These problems have now been shown to occur in the Sierra Nevada and downwind of most of the major cities of the western United States. Westwide research on this problem is headquartered at the Forest Fire Laboratory.
The second problem concerns the greatly intensified recreational use of the National Forests and other wildland areas of Southern California. National Forests near Los Angeles are among the highest used forests in the United States. Research concerned with non-traditional recreational use of wildlands, impacts of emerging recreational activities, and problems associated with vandalism and depreciative behavior are among the new emphases assigned to the Laboratory.