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Mark A. Finney

Mark A. Finney
Research Forester
Fire, Fuel and Smoke
5775 Highway 10 West
Missoula, MT 59808
United States
Current Research

My current research focuses on the study of physical processes in fire spread.  Use of laboratory and field experiments allows us to examine many of the fire behaviors that we do not understand and cannot predict today (such as thresholds in spread, crown fire). Another expression of my research includes fire simulation for purposes of fire risk assessment, which has been done in direct support of the development of two major fire management systems (WFDSS and FPA). The FSPro model is used in WFDSS to estimate the probability of impact of an ongoing large fire. A similar model (FSim) is used to estimate the burn probability and variability in fire behavior across large landscapes.  FSim is used for national, regional, and local risk modeling in the US.

Past Research
Fire behavior fundamentals are key to understanding the opportunities for improving fire behavior modeling. Although there are many fire behavior models, there is llittle understanding of ther dynamical interactions of phyiscal processes that produces spread and behavior.  One consequence of this is that there is no ability to anticipate threshold-type behaviors of surface or crown fires (spread vs. no spread transitions). Only by understanding the physics of these behaviors can we hope to improve management and mitigation. Quantitative risk analysis is essential to evaluating cost-effective operations in fire management, whether those are fuel treatment operations or fire suppression operations. We must continue to use current modeling tools to address these issues while pursuing fundamental research that will ultimately lead to improved modeling.
Research Interest
My research interests include fundamental processes in fire spread as well as applications of fire behavior models for fire management decision support and actuarial risk assessment.
Why This Research Is Important
Principal importance of my research using fire behavior experiments is to understand fire behavior processes well enough to produce simplified physical models of fire beahvior that will improve operational predictions, planning and mitigation, as well as training.  We must explain fire behavior, not just model it, if we are to realize better opportunities of managing it and living with wildland fire.  For other research, quantiative risk analysis has now become practical and allows communication of wildfire risk and impacts to the public and agency audiences in ways not possible before.
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, B.S., Forest Management, Fire Science, 1984
  • University of Washington, Seattle, M.S., Fire Ecology, 1986
  • University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., Wildland Fire Science, 1991
Professional Experience
  • Research Forester,  Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory,  2000 - Current
    Research on fire behavior, fire risk analysis, fuel treatment effectivenes
  • Research Scientist,  Systems for Environmental Management,  1993 - 2000
    Fire behavior research and modeling with the Missoula Fire Laboratory
  • Ecologst,  Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Research Division,  1991 - 1993
    Conducted prescribed fire research and fire behavior modeling
Awards & Recognition
  • Ember Award, Intl. Assocaition of Wildl. Fire, 2019
    Given to recognize the highest level of sustained scientific achievement
  • Best Scientific Paper by the Rocky Mountain Research Station, 2016
    Award recognizes the breakthrough into understanding physical processes in wildfire spread reported in “Role of Buoyant Flame Dynamics in Wildfire Spread”
  • Chief’s Honor Award for Excellence in Science and Technology, 2014
    Recognition of Fire Behavior Science Driving Risk-based Fire Management Decision-making
  • Regional Forester’s Award in the Northern Region (R1) , 2013
    Excellence in Science and Technology
  • USFS Chief's Honor Award: Execelence in Science and Technology, 2008
    This group award was presented to group leaders (Mark Finney, John Szymoniak, and Dave Calkin) on behalf of the entire team for our efforts to develop and deploy the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS).
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Role of Buoyant Flame Dynamics in Wildfire Spread

Year: 2015
The phrase “spreads like wildfire” is well-known but until recent discoveries through experiments, it wasn’t well-known how wildfires actually spread.

A practical approach to using fire simulations for operational planning and ecological research

Year: 2011
Station scientists have developed a simulation system designed to estimate the probabilistic components of wildfire risk for Fire Planning Units (FPUs) across the conterminous United States.

Understanding the physical processes of fire spread

Year: 2011
The latest research suggests a completely new approach to understanding and modeling the spread of forest fires - creating new opportunities for developing models that can be used for fire management applications.