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Practical uses for fire simulations

Date: August 21, 2015

A practical approach to using fire simulations for operational planning and ecological research


For federal land management agencies, a national-scale assessment of wildfire risk offers a consistent means of understanding and comparing threats to valued resources and predicting and prioritizing investments in management activities to mitigate those risks.

Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists and their partners have developed a simulation system designed to estimate the probabilistic components of wildfire risk for Fire Planning Units (FPUs) across the conterminous United States, and evaluated its performance against historical records. They found that simulated burn probabilities were comparable to observed patterns across the country. Combining the probability outputs with resource values and responses to fire, researchers have created a national-scale geospatial wildfire risk assessment tool.

This research demonstrates a practical approach to using fire simulations at very broad scales for operational planning and ecological research. The risk assessment tool helps managers monitor trends in wildfire risk over time and prioritize fuel treatments and mitigation measures. Findings are being used in national wildfire decision support applications such as the Forest Service and Department of Interior Hazardous Fuel Prioritization and Allocation System, and to create national maps of wildfire potential.

Empirical and modeled historical burn probabilities for FPUs across the continental U.S. (figure from Finney et al. 2011).
Empirical and modeled historical burn probabilities for FPUs across the continental U.S. (figure from Finney et al. 2011).

Featured Publications

Finney, Mark A. ; McHugh, Charles W. ; Grenfell, Isaac C. ; Riley, Karin ; Short, Karen C. , 2011
Thompson, Matthew P. ; Calkin, Dave E. ; Finney, Mark A. ; Ager, Alan A. ; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W. , 2011


Research Topics: 
Fire
National Strategic Program Areas: 
Wildland Fire and Fuels
National Priority Research Areas: 
Forest Disturbances
RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Fire, Fuel and Smoke
RMRS Strategic Priorities: 
Fire Sciences
Geography: 
National
Forest Service Partners: 
Alan A. Ager, Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center
External Partners: 
Karin L. Riley, Systems for Environmental Management
Julie W. Gilbertson-Day, University of Montana