Wildfires devastated communities in Oregon and Washington in September 2020, burning almost as much forest west of the Cascade Mountain crest (“the westside”) in 2 weeks (~340,000 ha) as in the previous five decades (~406,00 ha). Unlike dry forests of the interior western United States, temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest have experienced limited recent fire activity, and debates surrounding what drove the 2020 fires, and management strategies to adapt to similar future events, necessitate a scientific evaluation of the fires. We evaluate five questions regarding the 2020 Labor Day fires: (1) How do the 2020 fires compare with historical fires? (2) How did the roles of weather and antecedent climate differ geographically and from the recent past (1979–2019)? (3) How do fire size and severity compare to other recent fires (1985–2019), and how did forest management and prefire forest structure influence burn severity? (4) What impact will these fires have on westside landscapes? and (5) How can we adapt to similar fires in the future? Although 5 of the 2020 fires were much larger than any others in the recent past and burned ~10 times the area in high-severity patches >10,000 ha, the 2020 fires were remarkably consistent with historical fires. Reports from the early 1900s, along with paleo- and dendro-ecological records, indicate similar and potentially even larger wildfires over the past millennium, many of which shared similar seasonality (late August/early September), weather conditions, and even geographic locations. Consistent with the largest historical fires, strong east winds and anomalously dry conditions drove the rapid spread of high-severity wildfire in 2020. We found minimal difference in burn severity among stand structural types related to previous management in the 2020 fires. Adaptation strategies for similar fires in the future could benefit by focusing on ignition prevention, fire suppression, and community preparedness, as opposed to fuel treatments that are unlikely to mitigate fire severity during extreme weather. While scientific uncertainties remain regarding the nature of infrequent, high-severity fires in westside forests, particularly under climate change, adapting to their future occurrence will require different strategies than those in interior, dry forests.
The Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) initiated the Fire and Smoke Model Experiment (FASMEE) (https://fasmee.net) by funding JFSP Project 15-S-01-01. This nationwide, multiagency effort identifies and collects critical measurements that will be used to advance fire and smoke science and modeling capabilities, allowing managers to 1) increase the use of managed fire, 2) improve firefighting strategies, 3) enhance smoke forecasts, 4) better assess carbon stores and fire-climate interactions and improve our understanding of other fire effects such as vegetation response. FASMEE also provides unparalleled opportunities to introduce new technology and the next generation of fire researchers in the largest coordinated fire project to date. The core leadership portioned FASMEE into three phases including analysis and planning (Phase 1), data collection (Phase 2), and future improvements (Phase 3). Phase 1 is complete, with the study plan as the main deliverable and a final report submitted and accepted by the JFSP in 2020. The plan includes science questions, data measurements and specifications, and burn recommendations that serve to guide planning. The plan has been published in the scientific literature.
The Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) initiated the Fire and Smoke Model Experiment (FASMEE) by funding Project 15-S-01-01 to identify and collect a set of critical measurements that will be used to advance wildland fire science knowledge and fire and smoke modeling capabilities. The project provided core leadership that developed a robust study plan and costing for a field campaign that would gather a novel set of observations, evaluate a selected set of models and use this information to advance operationally used fire and smoke modeling systems. FASMEE, with the support of the JFSP, leveraged several agency resources including the US Forest Service, National Science Foundation (NFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to successfully initiate the western wildfire campaign, the first of three data collection campaigns identified in the FASMEE study plan.
This document presents the study plan for the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE). FASMEE is a large-scale interagency effort to (1) identify the critical measurements necessary to improve operational wildland fire and smoke prediction systems, (2) collect observations through a coordinated field campaign, and (3) use these measures and observations to advance science and modeling capabilities. FASMEE is aimed at operational modeling systems in use today as well as the next generation of modeling systems expected to become operationally useful in the next 5 to 10 years.