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Fire, Fuel and Smoke

Science Spotlights

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...
High-severity wildfire.
Land managers often need the total number of acres burned broken down by these severity classes for planning after wildfire. To meet this need, Forest Service scientists and their cooperators developed the Fire Severity (FIRESEV) Mapping project, a comprehensive set of tools and procedures that create, evaluate, and deliver fire severity maps for all phases of fire management.
Plume of the Big Salmon Lake Fire on August 17, 2011.
Wildland fires are a significant source of air pollutants. Researchers found that wildfires in the Interior Mountain West burn with a much lower combustion efficiency than prescribed fires. This finding means that for a given mass of vegetation burned, wildfires emit more fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and more non-methane organic compounds (NMOC) that lead to ozone (O3) formation.
Lubrecht Experimental Forest was a study site for this project.
Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Research Station investigated a number of fuel characteristics across major surface and canopy fuel components that comprise northern Rocky Mountain forest and range fuelbeds. They found that most fuel components have high variability that increases with fuel particle size.
USDA Forest Service and University scientists and managers synthesized 100 years of published forestry science to help forest managers better understand the ecology of “frequent-fire” forests. Returning frequent-fire forests to their historical species composition and structure will increase their resilience to fire, insects, disease, and climate change.
Firefighters exiting area where safety zone sensors were deployed on a fire in Nevada in 2014 (photo by Dan Jimenez).
Data over the past 30 years suggest that firefighter injury and deaths can be attributed almost uniformly to aircraft accidents, driving accidents, heart attacks, and fire entrapments. Forest Service scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station have worked to develop new information on safety zones and escape routes that can help keep firefighters safe. This work has resulted in a new understanding of how energy is released from fires and...
Wildland Fuel Fundamentals and Applications is a new book providing critical infomation about wildland fuels.
A new era in wildland fuel sciences is now evolving in that fire scientists and managers need a comprehensive understanding of fuels ecology and science to realistically evaluate fire effects and behavior in the diverse ecosystems and landscapes of the world. Wildland Fuel Fundamentals and Applications is a new book that may provide fire managers and scientists the information needed to understand how fuels are used in fire behavior and effects...