Rocky Mountain Research Station
An Historical Chronology of Wildland Fire Research in the Interior Western United States (1913 - 2000)
* In 1913, Forester J.A. Larsen began gathering meteorological and climate data for silvicultural studies in Idaho. He soon learned of their value in studying fire behavior.
* The Forest Service put out an appeal to its experiment stations in 1916 to initiate research on forest fires.
* Arthur W. Sampson, the first scientist at the original Utah Experiment Station in the Manti National Forest, investigated the role of fire in aspen regeneration and published his first finding on aspen regeneration in 1916. Sampson studied the use of fire to manage woody vegetation throughout his career and published his last report on the topic in 1957.
* In 1921, J.A. Larsen published several reports from research done at the Priest River Experimental Forest about the influence of precipitation, relative humidity, wind, and temperature on forest fires.
* Between 1921 and 1923, research foresters at the Northern Rocky Mountain Station published numerous research reports evaluating alternative methods of burning logging slash.
* Harry T. Gisborne was appointed Forest Examiner at the Priest River Experiment Station, Missoula, Montana, in 1920.
* A working plan for Gisborne's "Lightning and Fires" project went into effect in 1922. It was designed to predict the approach of lightning storms.
* The Fire Weather Warning Service was established in 1923 by the U.S. Weather Bureau and was headquartered in San Francisco.
* In 1923, Gisborne and M.E. Dunlap developed and tested the first duff hygrometer, used to measure duff moisture content.
* Great Basin Station Director Clarence Luther Forsling published information about the value of relative humidity in predicting flammability in 1924.
* In 1926, the first daily reporting of local fire weather data was transmitted to the Weather Bureau from Forest Service field stations.
* Regular fire weather forecasts and special warnings were first broadcast through commercial radio stations in 1927.
* Among the early fire problems investigated at Priest River Experimental Forest in 1928, then young researcher Robert Marshal looked into the effects of wildfire on the regeneration of Western white pine. Marshall later moved on to become proponent of wilderness conservation and one of the founders of the Wilderness Society.
* In 1928, Gisborne published the first technical report comparing duff and wood moisture content with various weather elements.
* Gisborne developed what he later called "my major research contribution" in 1931 -- a Fire Danger Meter that measured fire danger and administrative action needed to cope with prevailing or probable fire danger.
* Eighteen fire danger stations had been established around the Intermountain West by 1932, including Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
* Forsling led a team investigating the impact of wildfires in the Idaho Primitive Area in 1932.
* L.G. Hornby cooperated with the Northern Region to provide the standards and instructions for fuel type mapping in 1933.
* In 1934, Gisborne's first fire danger rating system was used on the Pete King-McLendon fire in Montana.
* Tests began in 1935 on using airplanes to drop fire retardants. However, it was not until 1947 that a formal aerial bombing project began, with the christening of a B-29 bomber called the "Rocky Mountain Ranger."
* In 1936, the first "fire investigator's meeting" was held to bring together all Forest Service fire researchers to coordinate and share studies. The following year, at the national Fire Planning Conference, it was recommended that the principles of fire control planning and fire danger measurement techniques conducted at Priest River be implemented nationwide.
* G.L. Hayes published his first report on the influence of altitude, aspect, and time of day on fire danger in 1937.
* Gisborne became Division Chief of Forest Protection Research (later called the Division of Forest Fire Research) in 1937.
* In 1941, work at Priest River produced the first systematic study of daily variation of forest fire behavior as influenced by altitude and exposure (USDA Circular 591).
* Range scientist Joe Pechanec, published the first treatise on both the good and bad effects of fire in sagebrush steppe ecosystems in 1944.
* Pechanec published his first report on the impact of the cheatgrass invasion and resulting fire and on rangelands in 1945.
* In 1947 the Northern Rocky Mountain Station published results of experiments with the Army Air Force in aerial bombing of forest fires, and published the results of investigations of aerial seeding of burned over timberlands.
* That same year, Gisborne, received a Superior Service Award from the USDA Secretary for achievements during the past 25 years in the field of fire control research.
* Pioneer fire scientist Gisborne died in November 1949 while investigating the fire behavior that killed 13 firefighters in Mann Gulch on the Helena National Forest.
* In 1954, Jack Barrows published a magnum opus on statistical occurrence of lightning and lightning fires in the Northern Rockies.
* The Aerial Fire Depot in Missoula, MT was dedicated in 1954. The facility included the world's largest combustion chamber dedicated to wildland fire research.
* In 1954, along with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Station initiated the winter range improvement partnership, which developed plant materials and restoration methods used to rehabilitate millions of acres of burned land in the Great Basin.
* "Fire as an Ecological Factor in Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests," one of the earliest assessments of fire in the Southwestern U.S., was published.
* In 1960, the Forest Service constructed the Fire Sciences Laboratory facility in Missoula, Montana, that included the world's largest combustion chamber dedicated to wildland fire research.
* The Miller Creek and Newman Ridge studies (1967-1970) were a milestone in documenting behavior and effects of prescribed burns.
* In 1972, scientists, in cooperation with the Bitterroot National Forest, MT, established the first and most successful to date (2000) prescribed natural fire program in the Forest Service in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
* In the 1970's researchers worked with the Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Fish and Game Dept. to develop green-strip fuel breaks for combating cheat grass fires on the Snake River Plains.
* A national fire research, development and applications program was established by the Forest Service in 1973.
* In the mid-70's, a prescribed burning and fuels management research project was initiated in Tempe, Arizona, focusing on better ways to use prescribed fire in southwestern ecosystems.
* In 1978, a rainbow series of technical reports, focusing on fire effects on flora, fauna, air, water, and soils, was initiated by a national meeting of fire researchers in Denver, CO.
* Fire Sciences Laboratory mathematician Frank Albini developed the fire analog algorithms, and in 1978 published a report on computer-based fire models.
* In 1978 Research Forester Bob Burgan worked with a team at the Southern Forest Fire Laboratory to develop the National Fire Danger Rating System for Eastern forests. For his work, he earned the Outstanding Service in Fire Management Award from the National Association of State Foresters.
* Seventy Years of Change in a Ponderosa Pine Forest was published by the Intermountain Station as General Technical Report INT-130. It showed photos of changes in these forests resulting from succession and fire suppression, and laid the groundwork for the start of ecosystem-based management in ponderosa pine forests at the Lick Creek study area, Bitterroot National Forest in 1991. This is the basis for management concepts now widely used in ponderosa pine forests.
* In 1985, researchers with the Fire Effects Unit published a prescribed fire guide for restoring aspen ecosystems in the West.
* During this period, techniques for assessing fuels, and models for predicting fire behavior were developed and adopted for use by wildland fire managers throughout the United States.
* General Technical Report INT-233, Guide to Understory Burning in Ponderosa Pine - Lodgepole Pine - Fir Forests, was published by the Intermountain Research Station in 1987. It documented the state-of-the-art of prescribed burning needed to advanced ecosystem-based management.
* On the heels of the historic 1988 Yellowstone fires, researchers developed the first computer generated, three-dimensional fire behavior models overlaid on topographical maps.
* Beginning in 1989, Research Forester Bob Burgan, Fire Sciences Laboratory, developed remote sensing data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) sensors aboard NOAA's polar orbiting satellites for monitoring vegetation greenness. This new technology proved useful to natural resource managers who wanted to assess national fire danger trends.
* By the late 1980's, extensive studies were underway on the use of infrared aircraft scanners for fire discovery and mapping.
* Scientists in the Fire Behavior Research Work Unit developed a fire behavior prediction system, and in 1991 Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson awarded Project Leader Dick Rothermel with the Superior Science Award for developing BEHAVE and other fire models.
* In 1992 Fire Sciences Laboratory researchers developed the first computer-based interactive computer program for public education about wildfire.
* Fire Effects unit Project Leader Jim Brown was presented a Superior Science Award for developing fuel models used in the National Fire Danger Rating System, and fire behavior models.
* In 1992, Station scientists, working with University of Montana researchers and the Bitterroot National Forest, won the Chief's New Perspectives Team Award for their work in restoring natural fire frequency in Ponderosa pine in the Lick Creek Demonstration Forest.
* Research Forester Bill Fisher earned the Forest Service Chief's Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer in 1993 for developing the Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) and the Wildland Home Fire Risk Meter that helps homeowners evaluate fire risk to their homes.
* Fire Sciences Laboratory researchers developed infrared aerial scanning to detect and photograph forest fires at night or through heavy smoke.
* In 1993, Scientist Dick Rothermel and Research Applications Specialist Bob Mutch received the Chief's Technology Transfer Award for developing practical indicators of extreme fire behavior.
* Following research on the Lowman Complex Fire in the Boise National Forest, Research Foresters Robert Steele and Kathleen Geire-Hayes first reported in 1991 that resource managers should seed native species instead of introduced grasses when rehabilitating burned areas.
* Research Meteorologist Don Latham developed the PLUMP model to predict the development of ultra-dangerous plume dominated fire behavior.
* Station scientists developed the FARSITE fire behavior model and tested its fire line application in 1994.
* The Bitterroot Ecosystem Management Research Project was established in 1994 by the Intermountain Research Station to demonstrate how to return natural-process based treatments to fire-dependent forests.
* In 1995 Station scientists worked with a team of Canadian scientists to plan the International Crown Fire Experiment that was launched in the Northwest Territories in 1997.
* In 1996, the Intermountain Research Station published a fire restoration guide by Colin Hardy and Steve Arno that quickly became one of the top five most requested research publications in Station history.
* In 1997, the Rocky Mountain Research Station created the Wildland-Urban Interface Fuels Management and Forest Health Restoration Research Work Unit at the Southwest Forest Science Complex in Flagstaff, and worked with cooperators to develop fuel treatment study plans applied on the Fort Valley Experimental Forest.
* In 1998 Fire Sciences Laboratory Researchers Jane Kapler Smith and Nancy E. McMurray were awarded the Chiefs Award for Conservation Education for developing the "FireWorks" wildland fire education curriculum for schools.
* In 1999 the Forest Service Chief's Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer was given to Station Scientist Steve Arno for helping resource managers restore fire dependent ecosystems.
(Fire Research in 2000)
* The Station web-published findings on structure ignitions from the Structure Ignition Assessment Model (SIAM); worked with the National Interagency Fire Center to translate those findings onto a video tape for immediate distribution to 500 homeowners in wildland-urban interface areas in the Northern Rockies.
* Scientists lead a team that developed a web-based interactive education program about fire ecology and the complexity of suppressing wildland fires.
* The Station provided the scientific leadership to launch the Joint Fire Science Program's Fire and Fire Surrogate Study in the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos, New Mexico.
* Researchers worked closely with the University of Montana to initiate the Joint Fire Science Program's Fire and Fire Surrogate Study at Lubrect Experimental Forest in Montana.
* RMRS convinced NASA to prioritize MODIS sensors aboard its Terra satellite to provide data on wildand fires; evaluated the data for operational use in strategic-level fire suppression planning.
* Working with the University of Montana, scientists developed the application of thermal infrared sensors in fixed wing aircraft that provide geo-referenced digital high-resolution fire data; over-laid the data with other geographical information systems data layers to provide fire planners with same-day tactical fire suppression planning information.
* Researchers provided intensive daily smoke and emissions monitoring for Montana communities during the 2000 fire season.
* Methods were developed for combining the latest U.S. Bureau of the Census's data with Geographical Information Systems to provide strategic fire planners with human population risk analysis data.
* The Station provided scientific leadership and lab space for an interagency team to produce daily FARSITE models for all the large fires in the Northern Rockies during 2000 fire season.
* RMRS published and distributed Evaluating the Effectiveness of Postfire Rehabilitation Treatments at the conclusion of the 2000 fire season when the information was needed most to plan and guide Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) projects.
* Researchers helped produce a new website (http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/fuelman) for use in fire and fuel management planning, assessment of ecosystem health, and risk assessment, titled "Coarse-Scale Spatial Data for Wildland Fire and Fuel Management."
* Scientists accelerated investigations on cheatgrass and other invasive plant species that invade areas following wildfires. These grasses often spread rapidly and not only choke out native vegetation, but also become fuel for future fires. Research results will provide information on characteristics of woodlands and shrublands at greatest risk of catastrophic fire, most susceptible to cheatgrass invasion, and most suitable for prescribed burns.
* The Station published the first in a "rainbow series" on fire effects on ecosystems. Wildland Fire in Ecosystems: Effects of Fire on Fauna, General Technical Report RMRS-42, Vol. 1, covers: regional variation in fire regimes; direct effects of fire and animal responses; fire effects on animal populations, animal communities, fauna at landscape scales, and wildlife foods; and provides management and research applications (available electronically at http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_gtr42_1.html).
* In a new general technical report, scientists evaluated the effectiveness of postfire rehabilitation treatments. They found that Forest Service spending on rehabilitation has increased over $48 million during the past decade because the perceived threat of debris flows and floods has increased where fires are closer to the wildland-urban interface. Scientists state that the amount of protection provided by any treatment is small. Of the available treatments, contour-felled logs show promise as an effective hill slope treatment; seeding has a low probability of reducing the first season erosion; and channel treatments, such as straw bale check dams, should be used sparingly. More information is available in Evaluating the Effectiveness of Postfire Rehabilitation Treatments, General Technical Report RMRS-63, available electronically on the Station's website at http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_gtr63.html.
* Land managers needing information on postfire changes of plant species and forest vegetation will be interested in a new Station publication titled Data Base for Early Postfire Succession in Northern Rocky Mountain Forests, General Technical Report RMRS-61CD. Published in CD-ROM format, and also available on the Station's website at http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_gtr61CD.html, the information addresses 25 years of secondary plant succession for 55 forest sites in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. Data are presented to permit their direct application to the wide range of wildland management problems involving early postfire forest vegetation.
An Historical Chronology of Wildland Fire Research in the Interior
Western United States (1913 - 2000)
Publish Date: February 21, 2001
Last Update: April 22, 2004
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