Fire and Fuels Research
There are five current emphasis areas of fire and fuels research:
- Physical Fire Science: core fire science, including physical fire processes, the characteristics of fire at multiple scales, and fire danger assessment.
- Ecological and Environmental Fire Science: fire effects on ecosystem components, and fire and environmental interactions.
- Social Fire Science: public interactions with fire and fuels management, socio-economic aspects of fires and fuels management, and organizational effectiveness.
- Integrated Fire and Fuels Management Science: management strategies at multiple scales, treatment and disturbance effects on ecosystem components, and forest operations, including biomass utilization and product development associated with fire and fuel management activities.
- Science Delivery: ensuring that knowledge generated by Forest Service scientists reaches groups and individuals who will benefit from it, including policy makers, wildland fire managers, and local communities.
About this Research
Each year, fires that start in American wildlands destroy homes, damage natural resources, pollute water and air, and cost billions of dollars for suppression and economic damage. Losses from damage to resources and infrastructure and from the economic impacts of wildland fire can be many times the cost of suppression alone.
Paradoxically, fire also plays an essential role in sustaining ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society. Understanding the ecological role of fire is essential for balancing the benefits and risks of alternative fire management strategies.
The combined effects of changes in land use, landscape fragmentation, management practices, climate, and spread of invasive species since the beginning of European settlement have led to widespread changes in the way fires burn across the United States. Almost every wildland ecosystem in North America has a history of fire, but the patterns of fire frequency and fire type—for example, surface fire vs. crown fire—vary greatly. In many areas, wildland fire has been excluded, fuels have accumulated, and the size and severity of fires have increased due to human-caused ignitions, invasive species, or other factors. Overall, risk to resources, structures, and environmental quality is expected to continue to grow as more people move info wildland-urban interface areas and burned landscapes increase.
Forest Service fire research provides the knowledge and tools that managers use to reduce negative impacts and enhance beneficial effects of fire and fire management on society and the environment. The research focuses on understanding and modeling fundamental fire processes, interactions of fire with ecosystems and the environment, social and economic aspects of fire, evaluating integrated management strategies and disturbance interactions; and, applying fire research to management problems.
Forest Service fire research has played a vital role in the agency’s fire and fuels management program since the early 1900s. Fire and Fuels Research results and products are used by managers in tactical fire fighting decisions, in prioritizing and implementing fuel hazard reduction projects, in smoke forecasting, in rehabilitation and restoration after severe wildfire, and in providing information to home owners in the wildland-urban interface. Changes in climate, vegetation management, and human development have led to dramatic increases in fire size and severity in some regions, and present new challenges to society — challenges that science helps us address.