Fire Behavior

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Using Soil Moisture Information to Better Understand and Predict Wildfire Danger

Symposium recordings.

Description: This free online symposium for researchers and fire managers will highlight the latest advances in using soil moisture information to better understand and predict wildfire danger. These recent discoveries are revealing the potential for soil moisture estimates from in situ monitoring stations, remote sensing, and models to improve fire danger predictions and to advance our understanding of fire behavior. This interactive symposium will provide researchers and fire managers a unique opportunity to connect with others, to learn about ongoing research in this area, and to discuss ways to move forward with new research and end uses.

John Bolten, Hydrological Sciences Branch, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
J. D. Carlson, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma State University
Nicholas Coops, Forest Resources Management, University of British Columbia
W. Matt Jolly, Rocky Mountain Research Station Fire Sciences Laboratory, U.S. Forest Service
Brian Magi, Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Brad Quayle, Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, U.S. Forest Service
J. T. Reager, Terrestrial Hydrology Group, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Angela Rigden, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University

Webinar, video, audio icon

Fieldwork from afar: Remote sensing tools to inventory fuels and fire behavior

Webinar recording.

Description: The idea of using sensors to remotely measure things is not new. Aerial photos taken from hot air balloons were first proposed as a tool for mapping streets in the 1850s. In 1941, a US Forest Service ranger developed a technique for mapping fuels with aerial photos. Recent advances in remote sensing have dramatically increased the amount of spatial information that can be generated for a given area. This webinar will look at some of the ways the Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team at the Seattle Fire Lab is using remote sensing to measure fuels and fire behavior. We’ll also discuss how this information can improve our capacity to model fires.
Presenter: Jim Cronan is a forester at the Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab in Seattle, WA. He coordinates field data collection for scientists on the Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team and has been involved with research on fuels and fire behavior for 20 years.

Webinar, video, audio icon

3D fuel characterization for modeling of wildland fire behavior and smoke

Webinar recording.

Rapid advancements in wildland fire modeling are promoting innovations in how we characterize and map wildland fuels. Before these models can be widely used, more research on fuel characterization and mapping methods is needed to support3D model inputs. The 3D Fuels Project is characterizing surface and canopy fuels on pine-dominated sites in the southeastern and western United States and western grasslands that represent fuels commonly characterized for prescribed burning. Through this project, researchers are developing a library of tools and datasets to leverage multi-scale estimates of 3D fuel structure and consumption that can be used directly within models of fire behavior and smoke production.

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Advanced burn boss workshop and fire science symposium

The Advanced Burn Boss Workshop and Fire Science Symposium (click “Log in as Guest” in the event portal) is a combined virtual event that will provide targeted training for burn bosses: RT300, IFTDSS, and smoke modeling, as well as interactive presentations for a wide audience that bridge research and practice using the three pillars of the Cohesive Strategy: Resilient Ecosystems, Fire Adapted Communities, and Safe and Effective Wildfire Response.

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Fire behavior and ecology of the shrub steppe

Webinar recording.

Alison Dean, Central Oregon Fire Management Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and Marth Brabec, City of Boise, will provide an overview of historic and modern fire behavior in different communities of the sagebrush biome, shrub steppe ecology, and post-fire restoration considerations.

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Modelling suppression difficulty: Current and future applications

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Improving decision processes and the informational basis upon which decisions are made in pursuit of safer and more effective fire response have become key priorities of the fire research community. One area of emphasis is bridging the gap between fire researchers and managers through development of application-focused, operationally relevant decision support tools. In this paper we focus on a family of such tools designed to characterise the difficulty of suppression operations by weighing suppression challenges against suppression opportunities. These tools integrate potential fire behaviour, vegetation cover types, topography, road and trail networks, existing fuel breaks and fireline production potential to map the operational effort necessary for fire suppression. We include case studies from two large fires in the USA and Spain to demonstrate model updates and improvements intended to better capture extreme fire behaviour and present results demonstrating successful fire containment where suppression difficulty index (SDI) values were low and containment only after a moderation of fire weather where SDI values were high. A basic aim of this work is reducing the uncertainty and increasing the efficiency of suppression operations through assessment of landscape conditions and incorporation of expert knowledge into planning.

Prescribed fire

Megafires: Climate change or land management?

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In the Western U.S., the 2020 fire season is setting new records in terms of geographic scale, fire intensity, and rates of spread. Tens of millions of people are currently being forced to breathe beneath a dense layer of smoke, as others have lost their lives and property.

With each new record-setting fire, the same question comes up again and again: is this due to climate change, or is this due to forest mismanagement? After dueling appearances on Monday, this question now appears to be a matter of debate in the Presidential campaign.

The climate change vs. management question ignores nuance that is crucial for finding scientific answers and policy solutions. The factors influencing wildfire behavior are complex, and the dominant drivers vary between different locations and events. Below are five key things to know about the causes of the current wildfire problem. Understanding them can help us navigate the question of what is driving increased fire activity and what can be done to reduce such large fires in the future.

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Access WildfireSAFE

WildfireSAFE provides simplified access to an advanced suite of fire weather and fire products. The Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) is a USDA Forest Service, Fire and Aviation Management-supported system that was developed by Forest Service fire behavior researchers as an avenue to increase the utility of remote sensing and spatial data in fire management. It is an integrated, web-based resource to support fire management decisions. It provides multi-temporal and multi-spatial views of fire weather and fire potential, including fuel moistures and fire danger classes from the US National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS), Keetch-Byram and Palmer drought indices, lower atmospheric stability and satellite-derived vegetation conditions. It also provides access to fire potential forecasts from 24 hours to 7 days. Wildfire SAFE integrates WFAS with federal agency incidents to provide targeted fire weather information on an incident basis.

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SageSTEP news: Issue 36 – Tree removal and grass response & Fuel treatments and fire behavior

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Two of the principal functional groups of the understory vegetation (grasses and forbs) respond positively to tree removal by any means, with grasses—both annual and perennial—showing the greatest increases to both burning and cutting over the ten-year time period. This was an expected result, because it was assumed that understory species were significantly suppressed prior to treatment by pinyon and juniper trees on the landscape as a result of competition for resources, principally water (but possibly also light). If the hypothesis of competition for water were true, then we would expect to also see an increase in water resources in the soil after trees were removed, mirroring the response in the understory vegetation.

Prescribed fire and mow treatments maintained fire behavior below this threshold for extreme fire behavior, and in early years even kept it within the 4 ft control mark. Control and tebuthiuron treatments can be expected to have fire behavior that is more difficult to control.

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Use of numerical weather prediction (NWP) models to identify convective outflows for fire weather forecasting

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Numerical weather prediction (NWP) models can produce high-resolution forecasts of gust front conditions, and identifying these conditions from the model outputs may provide enhanced fire weather guidance. Abrupt changes in wind direction and speed can dramatically impact wildfire development and spread. Most importantly, such changes can pose significant problems to firefighting efforts and have resulted in a number of fire fatalities over the years. Frequent causes of such wind shifts are thunderstorm and convective system outflows, known as gust fronts, and the identification and prediction of these present critical challenges for fire weather forecasters. Anticipating and warning of these phenomena in wildland fire situations thus represent opportunities for enhancing the safety of incident personnel and the effectiveness of the firefighting operations. With these considerations we have developed a software tool to identify and depict convective outflow boundaries in high-resolution numerical weather prediction (NWP) models to provide guidance for fire weather forecasting.

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