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Fire, Fuel and Smoke

Science Spotlights

Pioneer Fire in Idaho, night time photo of active fire running up hill
The USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station recently released a new General Technical Report, GTR-392, Cross-boundary Wildfire and Community Exposure: A Framework and Application in the Western US. The publication describes the development and application of a framework to assess cross-boundary wildfire exposure for the Western U.S. with the purpose of mapping potential fire transmission among public and private lands, and...
stand-level thinning
Large, old trees, often called legacy trees, serve a foundational role in old-growth forests. Restoration efforts to improve vigor of legacy trees and decrease risk to high-intensity wildland fire and drought-mediated insect mortality often include reductions in stand density. However, sometimes regulatory and social constraints limit stand-level thinning options by requiring maintenance of closed canopies.
During and after fire
Each year wildland fires kill and injure trees on millions of forested hectares globally, causing both positive and negative impacts to plant and animal biodiversity, carbon storage, hydrologic processes, and ecosystem services. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of fire-caused tree mortality is important to accurately predict mortality, estimate fire-driven feedbacks to the global carbon cycle, extrapolate to novel future conditions, and...
Annual PM2.5 emitted averaged over 2003-2015
Wildfires are a major source of fine particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) in the United States and can have substantial impacts on public health. In addition to acute pollution episodes, wildfires can have a marginal effect on air quality at significant distances from the source, presenting significant challenges to air regulators’ efforts to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Improved emission estimates are needed to quantify the...
Fire Danger Rating System
The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) is a system that allows fire managers to estimate today's or tomorrow's fire danger for a given area. In 2014, RMRS fire danger rating system developers sought and gained approval to update the U.S. National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS).
Picture shows high-severity (stand-replacing) fire effects on the 2002 Hayman Fire, Colorado. Photo credit: NIFC.
Dry conifer forests in the Western United States historically had low impact surface fires approximately every five to 30 years. Due to more than 100 years of successful fire exclusion, however, many of these forests are now denser, and therefore have a greater probability of experiencing intense fires that burn entire stands and convert forests to non-forest landscapes. What environmental conditions are necessary to promote low-severity fire in...
Prescribed fire in the Manitou Experimental Forest, Pike National Forest, October 2014. Reintroduction of fire through prescribed or wildland fire use is a vital component of restoration to restore ecological processes. Photo: Steve Alton, USFS
The need to better understand factors controlling fire severity are invoked by concerns about public safety, infrastructure, critical wildlife habitat, watershed health, and successional trajectories. Such concerns are heightened in forests with a legacy of past logging and fire exclusion, where significant shifts in ecosystem composition, structure, and function have triggered fuel conditions at greater risk for high-severity fire.  
Forest Fire Thumbail
Wildland fire has the potential to influence properties of subsequent fire. Researchers monitored the extent to which a previous wildland fire inhibits new fires from igniting.
fire thumbnail
The large amount of media coverage of recent massive wildfires across the world has emphasized the vulnerability of freshwater resources. Extensive hydrogeomorphic effects from a wildfire can impair the availability of watersheds to provide safe drinking water to downstream communities and high-quality water to maintain riverine ecosystem health. In this particular study researchers analyzed global wildfire-water risks.
The frequency of fire in low-elevation coniferous forests in western North America has greatly declined since the late 1800s. In many areas, this has increased tree density, increased the proportion of shade-tolerant species, reduced resource availability, and increased forest susceptibility to forest insect pests and high-severity wildfire. This study investigated how low-intensity fire affects tree defenses and whether fuel treatments impact...

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