USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research Topics Fire Science

Fire in California: Understanding and living with fire as part of our wildlands

A fire with low flames burns across the floor of the forest from right to left

Fire is the main disturbance factor influencing most forests and rangelands in California and much of the western United States. We cannot eliminate fire but we can better understand how to minimize the damage of fire and also inform management strategies to help managers take care of forest and rangeland ecosystems.

In developed areas, fire presents a threat to life and property and we continue to seek more effective methods for controlling fires and managing risk. In wildland areas we are working to provide scientific information to enable managers to work with fire to perform its ecological function while minimizing extreme events. It is how we manage and work with fire that will dictate both the socio-economic implications as well as the ecological outcomes of inevitable fire events. The role of research is to provide high quality, relevant scientific information to support these efforts.

Here we summarize what has been learned from the body of research findings on the complexity of working with fire in our fire-prone landscapes. We also provide some key references for those who would like more detailed information.

[Image]: 3D generated image of fire Imaging: PSW is developing new technology to monitor the progress and intensity of major wildland fires and their impacts on the environment. Fire behavior data will support tactical fire operations and the development of predictive models.

Masticated Fuels: Dense flammable vegetation and seasonally extreme fire weather present a daunting fuels management challenge in the foothill and mountain regions of California and southern Oregon. Much of this area historically burned in relatively frequent low to moderate severity fires, helping to thin the forest understory and reduce the potential for severe wildfires.

Wildland fire in a non-native grass dominated landscape of Guam Wildfire in the Pacific: The Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF) has supported wildfire awareness work in the Western Pacific with the goal of enhancing the understanding of the extent of human caused wildfires in the region; providing knowledge of the impacts of this disturbance on the ecology and hydrology of Pacific Island ecosystems; offering practical, cost-effective strategies for preventing human caused wildfires; and contributing to efficient, community-based strategies for restoring wildfire degraded ecosystems.