Fire Use for Resource Benefit

Fire Use for Resource Benefits

What is a wildland fire that is managed for resource benefits?

The management of naturally ignited wildland fires to accomplish specific pre-stated resource management objectives in predefined geographic areas. The goal of managing fires for resources benefits is to allow fire to resume its natural role in the ecosystem. Historically, natural fires create a mosaic of different vegetative types.  In turn, these vegetative patterns create a diversity of habitats.

Fires also cycle nutrients back into the soil, and help regulate insect and disease levels.  All these benefits are essential for a healthy ecosystem.  Managing fires for resource benefits can also reduce heavy fuel accumulations (litter, branches, fallen trees, etc.) caused by years of fire suppression, reducing the potential for large intense fires in the future.

Isn't this just a new "let it burn" policy?

No, we don't "just let it burn.''  Naturally ignited fires are managed to accomplish specific resource management objectives within predefined geographic areas. Fire planners must assess risk, predict fire behavior and growth, plan for contingencies, determine the maximum limits of the fire area, called maximum manageable areas (MMA) and define trigger points that signal the need to carryout measures to mitigate threats to personnel, public safety and the MMA.

Fire managers may use a full range of mitigation actions to check, direct, or delay the spread of fire to protect human safety, private property, and keep fire within MMAs.  These actions could include fire line construction, helicopter bucket and air tanker retardant drops, and burnouts.  All mitigation actions, however are based on environmental considerations and  minimizing  long-term impacts to the land.

What goes into making the decision to manage a fire for resource benefits?

First it must be determined if there is an approved Fire Management Plan (FMP).  With out an approved FMP there is no other option than suppression. Likewise, if the fire is human caused suppression is the only option. Wildland fires with approved FMP's give fire managers the option to implement an appropriate management response, which may include suppression, ranging from aggressive initial attack to a combination of strategies to achieve confinement, or exclusively manage a fire for resource benefits. All human caused fires, however will be suppressed.

It is important to note that appropriate management response is not a replacement for prescribed natural fire, or suppression strategies of control, contain, or confine. It is based on objectives, environmental and fuel conditions, constraints, safety, and ability to accomplish objectives. An appropriate response could include aggressive suppression on one portion of the fire and monitoring another portion of the same fire.

To aid fire managers in determining an appropriate management response, a three stage process was developed under the Wildland and Prescribed Fire Management Policy.

Stage I - Initial Fire Assessment: This stage consist of determining the fire situation, initial “go/no-go” decision and recommended response actions. It helps fire managers in making the initial decision to manage fire for resource benefits or to suppress by providing location of the fire (Fire Management Plan suppression or fire use unit), cause of the fire (human or natural) and validation of fire use decision (“Go/No-Go” decision).

Stage II - Short Term Assessment and Implementation Actions: This stage represents the initial stage of managing fires for resource benefits based on desired effects and objectives. It provides fire managers with predictions of where the fire may go, how intense it may burn, how fast it may spread, what the necessary short-term management actions are, what the full complexity is, and if long term management actions need to be addressed.

Stage III - Long-Term Assessment and Implementation Actions: This stage typically supplements the FMP by providing long-term implementation actions necessary to manage the fire to accomplish identified objectives. The assessment will determine the ultimate acceptable geographic size of the fire (Maximum Manageable Area or MMA). It considers the long-term fire behavior predictions, and long-term risk assessment. It also assesses the likelihood of the fire reaching the MMA perimeter, and documents those operational management actions necessary to manage long duration fires that will need mitigation measures to strengthen and defend the MMA.

What about the smoke?

Fire managers must carefully coordinate with State and County agencies responsible for smoke management. Fuel consumption and the emissions produced, trajectory and dispersion can be estimated using computer models. Like forecasting weather, smoke management is not an exact science. Smoke management is also very complicated, because there can be many sources. If air quality levels deteriorate to a point specified by law or other guidelines, fire managers can decide to take appropriate management actions.