Fighting wildfires with science

Fire modeling tools rely on information from the National Weather Service, detailed maps of fuel layers in forests and other factors. They estimate how fast the fire will burn and how it will spread in relation to vegetation, trees, homes and other properties.

For Joe Hudson and Byron Bonney, the WFDSS program calculated the Johnson Bar fire’s potential spread within a 26,000-acre planning area where firefighter actions could slow or stop the fire. The modeled fire behavior informed them on the potential effects on threatened values: homes along the Selway and in nearby Lowell, a rustic lookout, the historic Tahoe Trail, habitat for fish, and timber and replanted forests.

“Once the fire has escaped initial direct attack, the goal is to protect the values at risk and contain the fire,” said Hudson.

Hudson called in the Incident Management Team, an interagency group that manages large fires. The IMT set up camp Aug. 8 at the Kooskia airport, 20 miles west of the fire.

Winds were pushing the fire north. Winds were gusting 35 mph on the ridges, triggering an Aug. 12 flare that doubled the size of the fire in one day. People living in the 30 homes along the Selway already had been evacuated.

The IMT kept the fire from spreading and establishing itself on the other side of the river. The WFDSS analysis was helping guide their decisions.

With the fire spreading down the slopes of the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater River, the managers decided to perform burnouts using the rivers as barriers.

It worked. Welcome rains helped tame the fire. Firefighters were able to establish containment lines.

There are a few sections to this article – each valuable. It all leads up to fire science, divining the factors affecting heat, fuel and oxygen – the determinants of a fire.

Read the article. Especially if you live in the Moiuntain West.

TechKnow on Aljazeera America had a good segment on these studies a week or so ago. Here are the producer’s notes. Haven’t a video of the segment, yet – only a promo for the show.

Thanks, Mike

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