Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment set to provide wildfire insight

UTAH – The Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment is a large-scale interagency effort to identify how fuels, fire behavior, fire energy and meteorology interact to determine the dynamics of smoke plumes, the long-range transport of smoke and local fire effects such as soil heating and vegetative response. FASMEE is designed to collect observations from large prescribed fires by combining LiDAR, radar, ground monitoring, aircraft and satellite imagery, and weather and atmospheric measurements. Knowing more about how wildland fire operates will help land managers better predict fire behavior, smoke impacts and the short- to long-term effects of fire. It will also promote increased public and firefighter safety and aid in the allocation of firefighting resources.

Schematic representation of the FASMEE project measurement platforms. USDA Forest Service graphic.
Schematic representation of the FASMEE project measurement platforms. USDA Forest Service graphic.

USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, research forester Roger Ottmar is one of the lead scientists on the project, which includes a diverse array of partners. Some of the partners include the Joint Fire Science Program, U.S. Department of Defense, University of Washington College of the Environment, Desert Research Institute, Tall Timbers Research Station, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Fishlake National Forest and Fort Stewart Army Base. This collaborative effort is facilitating the integration of data across the entire smoke management continuum from fuels, fire behavior, plume dynamics, smoke production and smoke transport and chemistry.

This June, the first of two controlled burns will begin. The burn will take place at the Manning Creek unit in the South Monroe Mountain project on the Richfield Ranger District in the Fishlake National Forest. A similar burn will take place this fall at the nearby location of Annabella Reservoir, North Monroe Mountain Project. Scientists will be using a variety of instruments and ground measurements, including pre- and postfire fuels inventories, ground- and aerial-based LiDAR, infrared sensors, heat measuring instruments, weather balloons and smoke-sampling packages mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. This array will be used to measure fuel loading, fuel consumption, fire behavior, heat release, plume dynamics, atmospheric profiles, smoke emissions and fire effects. The data gathered from these burns will be used to advance fire and smoke modeling systems.

To evaluate and advance currently used operational wildland fire and fire effects models, sets of comprehensive, integrated data measurements are required, including ground-based observations of fuels and fire behavior, estimates of fire-emitted heat and plume properties, smoke emissions, and other fire effects such as vegetative response and soil heating.  To address these requirements the FASMEE campaign design includes a study plan to guide the suite of required measurements in forested sites representative of many prescribed burning programs in the Southeastern United States and increasingly common high-intensity fires in the Western United States.

Fire has a natural role in forest renewal. Yet, after decades of fire exclusion, large areas of fire-adapted forests have become susceptible to uncharacteristic wildfire: fires that burn so hot or over so large an area that most or all the trees in the overstory are killed. Fuel treatments that include thinning, prescribed fire and managed wildfire can help create fire-resilient forests, but measuring their effectiveness is inherently complex. Forest Service scientists are studying fuel treatment effectiveness using a variety of approaches. Their research provides land managers with information on the extent to which treatments change fire behavior. More information about FASMEE is available here.