Researchers study and film the depths and heights of a forest fire

The scientists captured video that is mesmerizing

Forest Service fire research
Screenshot from the USFS video below filmed in the fire.

By: Gail Keirn, Rocky Mountain Research Station-Fort Collins, Colorado; Matt Burks, Pacific Northwest Research Station-Corvallis, Oregon; John Zapell, Fishlake National Forest-Richfield, Utah
July 29th, 2019

Forest fires often reach or exceed temperatures of 2,000° Fahrenheit—that’s equivalent to one-fifth the temperature of the surface of the sun. What is the impact of such high temperatures on the soil and plants of our forests? And how do the intensity and heat of a wildfire impact its behavior, smoke and the surrounding weather?

Answering these questions is challenging since it is hard to predict when and where fires will occur. Therefore, USDA Forest Service scientists and others with the interagency Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment, or FASMEE, teamed up with the Fishlake National Forest Richfield Ranger District to study a prescribed fire from start to finish.

After months of planning and preparation, Fishlake National Forest fire crews ignited more than 2,000 acres of Utah forest in an effort to consume living upper canopy vegetation and initiate growth of new vegetation. This June 2019 prescribed fire was designed to restore aspen ecosystems by removing conifer trees and stimulating the regrowth of aspen.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest Research Station and Rocky Mountain Research Station, as well as other FASMEE participants, saw the fire as a unique opportunity for study. Prior to the fire, Forest Service research experts took measurements of the forest vegetation and fuel loads. They also set up special fire-proof equipment to record and measure the heat of the fire throughout the project. Embedded below is a video recorded during the burn.

Forest Service fire research
Researchers prepare for the start of a prescribed fire at Fishlake National Forest. More than 40 scientists from multiple agencies participated in the effort, gathering a variety of data on the fire itself and its impacts. USDA Forest Service photo.

During the fire, scientists used LiDAR, radar, aircraft and satellite imagery, weather and atmospheric measurements, and ground monitoring to study the fuel (dead materials) consumed, fire behavior and the fire’s impact on living vegetation. Scientists will continue to monitor the area to determine how vegetation recovers after fire.

“More than 40 scientists from multiple agencies participated in the effort, gathering a variety of data on the fire itself and its impacts,” said Pacific Northwest research forester Roger Ottmar, one of the lead scientists for the project. “The data is invaluable to our efforts to predict fire behavior, smoke impacts and the short- and long-term effects of extreme fires.”

Over the next several months, scientists will gather more data as the landscape recovers, comparing burn severity maps generated from remote sensors with observed plant regrowth. Other data from the fire is already being used to validate and improve models that predict fire and smoke severity, as well as to improve firefighter safety standards and guidelines.

Building upon this success, experts are planning a similar project for later this fall to continue studying and learning about fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

8 thoughts on “Researchers study and film the depths and heights of a forest fire”

  1. Really ? Spending money to Research most of what is already known .
    Seems like the money should go to the Firefighters,and more equipment!

    1. A comment like yours is indicative of the mindset of most federal land management agencies. Throwing money at bad policies and false assumptions since 1910.

      For those doubting the value:
      Scientific research is an objective method to prove a hypothesis, claim or observation. Unlike relying on mental processes or group reasoning, research methods are not restricted by the limits of critical thinking, biased discussion or personal opinions. Conducting research is valuable for developing and promoting the body of knowledge and information that drives innovation, and allows us to live healthier and longer lives. Scientific research is also important for dispelling the false claims of inaccurate or weak research.

    1. These kind of prescribed fires are becoming more and more common in higher elevation Aspen stands that have become encroached by conifers, leading to a degradation of the Aspen stand.High intensity fire stimulates the Aspen clone while killing the conifers leading to a healthier stand of aspen and it’s associated benefits for wildlife.

  2. It would seem that by using visual and other sensor data in controlled burns would allow fire behavior prediction (within a set of norms) to advance. This can be considered a net gain for FF safety, as well as general public safety protocols (communications, evacuation, etc.).
    Studies like this with multi modal information gathering techniques both during and after the incident can only help in planning for future events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *