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Fire, Fuel and Smoke


Wildland fire management teams may be faced with the potential for fires to damage power transmission or telecommunication lines, which can suffer damage severe enough to cause failure of the system, with critical implications for public safety. Standards for clearing vegetation away from lines, poles, and towers help minimize the risk of fires being ignited by electricity arcing from the line to the ground, but a remaining question is how much clearing is needed to reduce the risk of a nearby wildfire inflicting thermal damage to the transmission or telecom system.
Wind predictions in complex terrain are important for a number of applications including wildland fire behavior, transport and dispersion of pollutants, and wind energy applications. Fine-scale changes in topography and vegetation substantially alter the flow field. Thus, accurate modeling for these applications in complex topography requires near-surface flow field predictions at a high spatial resolution.
While the U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets on its lands in the western United States, two questions remain to be definitively answered: 1) Can exploding targets be demonstrated to cause ignition? 2) If so, what factors contribute to ignition?
Experimental evidence now shows that flame impingement is required for the ignition of fine fuel particles responsible for the spread of wildland fires. However, the characteristics of the non-steady flame zone that produce convective heating of fuel particles has not been studied. It is not known how to describe - qualitatively or mathematically - the flame dynamics that allow forward spread of wildland fires.
Fire spread in live fuels has long presented conundrums for managers and defied explanation by researchers. Fire, Fuel and Smoke researchers with collaborators from the Fire and Fuels Program at the Pacific Southwest Research Station, Brigham Young University, and the University of Alabama-Huntsville performed a two-year study of the seasonal changes in the ignition behavior of ten shrub and tree species from southern California, Utah, western Montana, and Florida.
Flame residence time is critical to the spread of wildland fires; if it is less than the ignition time, the fire won’t spread. Better understanding of flame residence time and burning rate of fuel structures will allow for better fire spread and fire effects predictions.
Current operational fire behavior models are empirically based on fire spread through surface fuels and do not describe heating and combustion processes. RMRS Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program scientists and collaborators have developed a research program for understanding how fire spread occurs with a focus on live fuels and active crown fire.
In the interior West, western spruce budworm outbreaks often last for decades, but their impact on fire behavior is poorly understood. By isolating the effects of the insect on a single tree and simulating the tree in a three-dimensional fire model, researchers were able to identify precise links between western spruce budworm disturbance and fire behavior changes.
This study investigates the effects of burning petroleum fuel oil (diesel) and crude oil on soils.
Whitebark pine trees, a valuable keystone species that provides food to hundreds of wildlife species, cover a significant portion of national forests in the Northern Rocky Mountains but have been rapidly declining because of blister rust infections, mountain pine beetle outbreaks, and fire exclusion. A restoration technique called daylighting, in which competing trees that surround the whitebark pine are removed, is playing an increasing role in whitebark pine restoration.