At the International Association of Wildland Fire’s Fuels conference currently underway in Albuquerque, Research Ecologist Matt Jolly’s presentation on “Mapping extreme fire weather and its impact on firefighter safety” was very interesting. In his allotted 20 minutes he began by talking about the rollout that is nearly complete of the third revision of the National Fire Danger Rating System.
Mr. Jolly described the development and evaluation of an extreme fire weather metric called the Severe Fire Weather Potential Index. The Index is strongly correlated to wildland fire occurrence and intensity detected by the MODIS satellite and is a strong predictor of wildland firefighter entrapments and fatalities from 1979 to 2017.
Mr. Jolly said some firefighters have told him that the WildfireSafe app which has been in the prototype stage for the last three years is a useful tool for accurately predicting the fire danger at the local level.
These images were snapped with a cell phone during Mr. Jolly’s presentation.
This updated system that calculates wildfire danger has been in development for 18 years
The system that most federal and state land managers rely on to quantify wildfire danger in the United States was first developed in 1972. Updated in 1978 and 1988, the work is now complete on the third revision that began in 2000. Expected to be introduced two years ago, the latest edition is named “National Fire Danger Rating System 2016”.
The NFDRS tracks the effect of previous weather events through their effect on live and dead fuels and adjusts them accordingly based on future or predicted weather conditions. It is a numeric scaling of the potential over a large area for fires to ignite, spread, and require fire suppression action. It is derived by applying local observations of current or predicted conditions of fuel, weather, and topographic factors to a set of complex science-based equations.
“The [updated] system is being rolled out now”, Jon Wallace told us. Mr. Wallace is the Deputy Fire Management Coordinator for the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He said, “An interagency group led by the USFS is hosting Fire Danger Operating Plan/NFDRS2016 workshops around the country to introduce the new system as well as to help people update or develop fire danger operating plans. The final replacement of the current system is scheduled for May of 2020. We wanted to have a pretty good transition period so that people would have time to compare the old system with the new system.”
Another approach for predicting wildfire danger
A group of meteorologists and others in Chile and the U.K. have developed what they describe as “a novel probabilistic wildfire prediction system”, a daily wildfire warning system designed to be used by land managers in Chile. It predicts one thing the NFDRS does not address, the severity of a fire that may occur (low, moderate, or high). It also specifically addresses probability of fire occurrence, for example, 25% to 50%. The product they settled on for communicating the forecast appears to be a little complex at first, with 16 “risk levels” which are grouped into four “risk colors”, green, yellow, amber, and red.
In this video Dr. Matt Jolly talks about his current project — the first revision of the U.S. National Fire Danger Rating System in 40 years.
After I ran across the video above which mentions the revision of the National Fire Danger Rating System, it made me wonder about the status of the project.
The system tracks weather events through their effects on live and dead fuels and adjusts them accordingly based on forecasted weather. The most visible product, which is used by most large land management agencies in the United States, is the predicted fire danger, often expressed as adjectives ranging from Low to Extreme. (The system used in Australia has those five categories plus one more — “catastrophic” or “code red”.)
The NFDRS was first released for general use in 1972 and was revised in 1978 and 1988. Work on another revision began in 2000 and was last scheduled for completion in 2017. Reportedly this latest version is much simpler and more automated than its predecessors and represents a vast improvement in fire potential assessment capabilities.
Jon Wallace, a member of the team revising the system, said that in tests last year they discovered a flaw in the Nelson model which had been in use for several years that needed to be corrected. And, rounding methods and decimal points in Firefamily Plus and WIMS did not match.
The team feels that all of the hidden issues and bugs have been squashed and rollout plans are being finalized. The U.S. Forest Service has released their plan, and Mr. Wallace will present one to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group the week of January 22.
The National Fire Danger Rating System tracks weather events through their effects on live and dead fuels and adjusts them accordingly based on forecasted weather. The most visible product of the system, which is used by most large land management agencies in the United States, is the predicted fire danger, often expressed as adjectives ranging from Low to Extreme.
The NFDRS was first released for general use in 1972 and was subsequently revised in 1978 and 1988. Work on another revision began in 2000 and is nearing completion. Reportedly this next version is much simpler and more automated than its predecessors and it represents a vast improvement in fire potential assessment capabilities.
Three major changes will be:
The Fosberg Dead Fuel Moisture Model will be replaced with the Nelson Dead Fuel Moisture Model.
The Burgan Live Fuel Moisture Model will be replaced with the Growing Season Index-based live fuel moistures.
The number of fuel models in the NFDRS will be reduced from 40 to 5.
Jon Wallace, a member of the team rolling out and implementing the new system described the transition in an email today:
“The system is expected to be back from contracting and thus complete on November 1st of 2016. After the first of the year we’re going to begin training of Subject Matter Expert groups located within each geographic area, and when that training is complete we will open the system up for all users. We had to wait to conduct this training until the system was fully functional.
“As you can imagine, there is going to be a learning curve for the user community and these Subject Matter Expert groups are going to help us get through that curve within their respective geographic area.
“All members of the user community will be able to see the new NFDRS2016, as well as the 1978 and 1988 NFDRS models during the spring of 2017. This will allow them to work with the subject matter expert groups to set up NFDRS parameters prior to the Summer of 2017 fire season. They will then be able to compare the outputs of the new system to what they are used to seeing in the older versions of NFDRS.
“This side by side comparison will be available to users through the 2018 fire season, at which time we will re-evaluate the need to continue support of the old systems.”