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Fire, Fuel and Smoke


Fuel mastication is becoming the preferred method of fuel treatment in areas where using prescribed fire is an issue. While much is known about mastication effects soils, fire behavior and vegetative response, little is known about how fuel particle and fuel bed characteristics and properties change over time.
Conventional wisdom in fire management holds that forested stands containing trees that are killed by insects, disease, or fire will remain at high fire hazard for decades after the disturbance. The foliage and fine woody material that falls from the trees killed by the disturbance agents will be highly flammable and create landscapes that have high risk for abnormally severe fire, including crown fire. This assumption, however, is currently being debated for many ecosystems across the western United States.
The ArcBurn project uses controlled laboratory experiments and instrumentation on prescribed burns and wildfires to determine critical damage thresholds for cultural resources including archaeological sites, artifacts, and heritage resources. Data and observations on fire effects and effectiveness of fuels treatments are then used to develop guidelines for best treatment practices and protection of archaeological resources.
Wildfires occur at the intersection of dry weather, available fuel, and ignition sources. Weather is the most variable and largest driver of regional burned area. Temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, and wind speed independently influence wildland fire spread rates and intensities. The alignment of multiple weather extremes, such as the co-occurrence of hot, dry, and windy conditions, leads to the most severe fires.
Global surface temperatures have increased about 0.89°C during the period from 1901 to 2012. Northern Eurasia has experienced the greatest temperature increase to date and is projected to continue experiencing the largest temperature increase globally. High-latitude boreal and temperate ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate change, and fire – a major disturbance in these ecosystems – responds rapidly to climate change.
Wildland fires emit a substantial amount of atmospheric pollutants including carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), non-methane organic compounds (NMOC), nitrogen oxides (NOX), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and black carbon (BC). These emissions have major impacts on regional air quality and global climate. In addition to being primary pollutants, the photochemical processing of NOX and NMOC leads to the formation of ozone (O3) and secondary PM2.5.
Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists and their partners are conducting a project to explore what makes fuel treatments effective. The project, STANDFIRE, is a platform through which new fire science can be tested, assessed, and incorporated into fuel treatment analysis.
Considerable effort is expended to determine fuel loading and to map those loadings across the landscape, yet there is little or no work being done to determine how to incorporate those measurements into the next generation of fire behavior models, such as physics-based models. Identifying critical spatial and temporal fuel characteristics required by these models may help to refine field sampling procedures and ensure a tight coupling between how fuels are measured and how those measurements are then used to assess potential fire behavior.
For decades, the cause and timing of a 'spring dip' in foliar moisture content in red and jack pine in the Great Lakes region have been poorly understood. This project studies the drivers of this 'dip' in order to improve wildland firefighter preparedness.