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Fire, Fuel and Smoke

Science Spotlights

Proper management of naturally forested landscapes requires an understanding of the temporal and spatial patterns in which key disturbance processes are manifest and their effects on species composition and structure. Linked fire and forest histories constructed from tree-ring evidence provide valuable information about drivers of fire occurrence and about the variability and interactions of fire regimes and vegetation on heterogeneous...
Chita forest April 2015
Scientists examined daily black carbon emissions from fires over different land cover types in Northern Eurasia. Their results are critical in understanding the future impacts of climate change on the fire dynamics in Northern Eurasia and the contribution of black carbon to accelerated melting of Arctic ice.
Research Forester Emily Heyerdahl prepares samples for archiving (photo by Roger Pilkington).
The Rocky Mountain Research Station is preparing more than 16,000 tree-ring specimens for permanent archiving. Each specimen is a unique record of the environmental conditions from which it came. This tree-ring specimen collection will be permanently archived at the only federally recognized tree-ring repository in the U.S., where its importance will grow as it is used in ways we cannot currently imagine.
Jack Cohen (retired, RMRS Research Physical Scientist) approaches a home to conduct a post-fire assessment with Sonny LaSalle (retired, USFS), which survived extreme wildfire conditions in southwestern Montana, 2000. (Photo by: Karen Wattenmaker/NIFC)
When it comes to protecting your home from a wildland fire, the most effective action for a homeowner is to create a home ignition zone (HIZ). Research Physical Scientist (retired) Jack Cohen provides an overview on HIZs along with two videos that clearly demonstrate why HIZs work.
Simulated fire behavior during the green, red, and gray stages of a mountain pine beetle outbreak under various levels of tree mortality (20%, 58%, and 100% mortality) and low wind speeds.
This study explored the impact of beetle-induced mortality and wind speed on fire behavior during the pre-outbreak (“green stage”), immediately post-mortality when dead needles remain on trees (“red stage”), and when needles drop to the ground (“gray stage”) in southwestern ponderosa pine forests.
2007 Castle Rock Fire in Ketchum, ID (c) Kari Greer/NIFC
The length of the fire weather season is one of many factors that must be understood to ensure that wildfires are effectively managed to promote healthy ecosystems while minimizing negative socio-economic impacts. While fire weather seasons aren't getting consistently longer everywhere, unusually long fire weather seasons are becoming more frequent across many fire-prone regions, like parts of Australia, Alaska, and the Eurasian boreal forests...
Simulations show where fires would have spread and reveal hidden consequences of suppression.
Researchers have investigated the true costs of suppressing wildfires and found the results to have broad national applicability. These methods are being evaluated in the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest, and findings improve the quality and consistency of fire and fuels management decisions. This research highlights the importance of wilderness areas for understanding fire ecology within unmanaged versus more heavily managed landscapes.  
Flowers of sticky whiteleaf manzanita, one of many plant species reviewed by FEIS scientists (photo by George W. Hartwell).
Thirty years ago, Rocky Mountain Research Station scientist William (Bill) Fischer proposed a highly innovative computer system to provide managers with information about the effects of prescribed fire. Technology has changed radically since Fischer originally envisioned a computer program to provide fire effects information electronically. The FEIS user interface now enables readers to search using many criteria, including maps, and it connects...
Top-view of the flame zone of a spreading fire in the laboratory showing pocket structures resulting from buoyant-flow instabilities.
The phrase “spreads like wildfire” is well-known but until recent discoveries through experiments it wasn’t well-known how wildfires actually spread. Attempts to develop physical models have conceded a diversity of proposed formulations, rather than a foundational theory, because the exact physics of wildfire spread has not yet been discovered. New research by Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists and their collaborators clearly revealed...
Red mountain pine beetles are dry and highly flammable.
Beetle-killed trees lose their needles over time, and once all the needles have dropped, crown fire danger largely disappears. However, red-needled trees have lower foliar moisture contents than healthy trees, which leads to increased crown fire potential. This research provides insights into the potential use of fuel treatments in beetle-killed forests, increases firefighter awareness of dangerous situations, and assists managers in identifying...