Researchers develop new modeling tools for prescribed fire

USFWS Rx fire
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge conducted a 704-acre prescribed fire on April 4, 2014 in the southeast corner of the refuge near I-75 and SR 29 in southwest Florida. Firefighter Connor Bowden uses a drip torch to ignite a portion of the prescribed fire. Photo Credit: Paul Stevko – USFWS

Below are portions of a press release issued March 24 by the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Research Station.

By Stephanie Siegel, Southern Research Station

March 24, 2022 – Much of what is known about planned fire comes from a burn manager’s memory.

“It takes years to get that kind of experience,” says Joseph O’Brien, fire research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service. “If things are changing, like invasive species or climate, or if you’re a new manager, you need help.”

O’Brien, writing in Fire Ecology with J. Kevin Hiers of Tall Timbers Research Station and others, identified a need for more science-based prescribed fire predictions and models. Fire researchers and managers can use these tools to test scenarios, teach new prescribed fire managers, and identify possible improvements in fire prescriptions and plans.

For predicting fire behavior, the Southern Research Station (SRS) team developed and is testing QUIC-Fire. The real-time modeling tool uses 3D maps of fuels and forest structure and accounts for how chemistry, material science, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer interact to influence fire behavior — yet it can run on a laptop computer. “It’s definitely a revolution in modeling and a quantum leap in fire management,” says O’Brien.

QUIC-Fire was created, evaluated, and improved by access to prescribed fire operations, “where we could measure conditions before, during, and after the burn in detailed and extensive ways,” adds O’Brien.

After ten years in development, QUIC-Fire is getting good results in testing.

“We have been building demonstration landscapes on Oconee National Forest and Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge,” says O’Brien. “We’re going to get feedback from the managers who know those lands best. Managers’ insights will mold the product to meet timber stand management objectives. “For example, a land manager could say, ‘We want to manage underbrush without scorching the pines.’”

The new WIFIRE Lab at the University of California, San Diego has integrated QUIC-Fire as the model behind its new prescribed fire decision support tool BurnPro3D.

QUIC-Fire’s developers organized themselves this year as a modeling hub for advanced forest and fire technology. They teamed up with partners from Tall Timbers, the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the University of Georgia.

Based at the Athens Prescribed Fire Lab, the hub includes seven scientists who previously created the Prescribed Fire Science Consortium. The Consortium brought together various fire managers and scientists annually at a burn site to observe, network, share experiences, and vet ideas.

“Anybody who manages land that is prone to fire has insights that are valuable,” says O’Brien. “Our collaboration with Southern Region fire management gave us the exposure to fire operations that generated the insights we are pursuing. Fire managers have the knowledge we need, and there are gaps they need to fill.  There’s respect for each other on both sides.”

“The goal of the modeling hub is to operationalize QUIC-Fire and the framework of required 3D inputs that also serve to revolutionize fire effects assessment and fuels treatment monitoring,” says O’Brien.

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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.

15 thoughts on “Researchers develop new modeling tools for prescribed fire”

  1. Great! But how are you going to use it? Region 8 is required by a court order to use HYSPLIT PC. There was a super fog event that happened that caused numerous deaths on Highway 10 and a Judge ordered the Forest Service to use HYSPLIT PC.

    1. Can you provide reference for the court order? I believe the statement you made is false. If it’s true, I’ve been breaking the law…..

      1. My statement is not false and yes, you have been breaking the law. You need to reach out to your Zone or Regional Air Quality Specialist and they will be able to help you. There is a protocol you should be following. By your comment it doesn’t sound like you are following your burn plan, your protocol or your SOP.

        1. Actually, the burn plan says “simple smoke modeling is acceptable”….. And I follow my states smoke implementation plan; on top of the Federal guidance that we are all well aware of. I go above and beyond by using HySplit for modeling, but there are days Vsmoke is easier to use in a shortened timeframe, and of course PBPiedmont for night burning. Nowhere have I seen any documents referencing HySplit specifically. Which is why I am again going to ask, can you reference the documentation that says specific use of HySplit. I don’t want your comment to misguide other folks.

          1. VBH, I totally agree with you about VSmoke and PBPiedmont. I loved using PBPiedmont in historical mode. Especially, if I needed imagery for presentations. When I worked in R8, I noticed that some burn bosses were not using any models. So, I encouraged them to use ARL HYSLPIT as a screening tool. (It’s easy to access, easy to use, and much quicker – 47 sec.). If they decided not to burn all is ok, but if they decided to burn then I would run PC HYSLPIT (as court ordered). I’m sorry, I cannot answer your question, because when I was fired because Tony Tooke grabbed my butt, I could not take any of my presentations with me. That is why I am telling you to talk to your Zone or Regional Air Quality Specialist.

    2. HYSPLIT PC is a smoke modeling tool, QUIC-Fire is a linked atmospheric/fuels model that predicts fire behavior.

      1. Matt, I’m excited to see new tools and yes, PC HYSLPIT can be run as a smoke model, but it can also be used to create forward and back trajectories. You can run it with known and unknown substances. You pull in your met thru FEPS and then enter in your fuels. I could go on and on, but the reality is that there was a court order to use PC HYSLPIT. How are you getting around the court order?

        1. SR

          You made the claim of a court order requiring the PC HYSLPIT of this program.

          Others asked for a specific reference.

          It’s your responsibility to provide a factual reference.

          Don’t expect others to do your research.

          Dave C

          1. Dave, I’m not expecting other to do my research, I just can’t provide the information that they requested, because that is the FS responsibility. I was fired from the FS and have been in a 5 year legal battle with them. This is just another example of how the FS does not follow the law. I am excited about new tools, but the FS still has to follow the law. If y’all are going fire the people who kept you out of trouble, don’t be surprised when you get into trouble for not following the law.

  2. I’m confused…The whole comment thread is focused on the R8 legalities of using HYSPLIT. I used to do prescribed
    fire in the Florida panhandle with the Nature Conservancy and 75 % of the time we were at Eglin Air Force Range ripping 50,000 acres a year with the Jackson Guard (Civilian Air Force wildland team at Eglin) Kevin Hiers was working there then and I had the privilege of working with him. He pulled off one of the largest interagency prescribed fire events with a series of research burns on Eglin in 2009 which I was a part of. This was attempt to capture almost all the range of emissions from smoke particles to IR. We even had NASA there and NOAA. (RX CADRE Very smart guy and I am excited about the advances in smoke modeling from Tall Timbers.

  3. Gordon,
    I remember you well when you helped us burn at Eglin back in the day. I appreciate you and Matt refocusing the comments on the real story here, which is the amazing advances that are being made and tools that are being developed to assist with prescribed fire planning. The new physics-based models such as QUIC-Fire that can run on a laptop coupled with FastFuels, which allows uploading of 3D fuels data into the physics-based models, promise to revolutionize prescribed fire planning and training tools. These are very exciting times for fire management and collaborative, management-relevant fire research.

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