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Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory

Scientists observe the behavior of fire in a wind tunnel.  Photo courtesy of the New York Times.
Scientists observe the behavior of fire in a wind tunnel (photo courtesy of the New York Times).

On September 12, 1960, the US Forest Service's brand-new Northern Forest Fire Laboratory was dedicated in Missoula, MT. Now known throughout the community simply as the "Fire Lab", its mission was—and is—to improve scientific understanding of wildland fire so it can be  managed more safely and effectively in the field. As part of the Fire, Fuel and Smoke Science Program at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, the Fire Lab has a wide variety of unique facilities and equipment that enhance the program's research efforts. 

The first scientists to work at the lab performed research that today continues to be used, refined, and extended. The Fire Lab is equipped with state-of-the-art burn chambers, comprehensive laboratory facilities, extensive computing resources, and novel field instrumentation which provide a unique environment to conduct innovative wildland fire research. A description of the unique facilities and can be found at

One unique piece of fire-research equipment housed at the Fire Lab is the wind tunnel/combustion chamber (WTCL), which is used to conduct burning experiments in a controlled environment under varying temperature, humidity, and wind conditions. The WTCL consists of three primary entities: the environmental conditioning section, the combustion laboratory and a high and low speed wind tunnels. These sections are interconnected and permit air to be conditioned and/or pass through in a number of ways. Temperature, humidity and wind speed are controlled through a computer interface where the user specifies a target set of conditions. The WTCL facility is the only one of its kind in the world and is used to conduct experiments into wildland fire behavior, atmospheric chemistry, soil heating, fundamental fire physics, and wildland fire retardant effectiveness.

Learn more about the research conducted at the Missoula Firelab in this September 2013 New York Times Magazine article, Into the Wildfire: What science is learning about fire and how to live with it.

Inside the Fire Sciences Lab (Firelab) in Missoula.  Photo courtesy of the New York Times.
Inside the Fire Sciences Lab (Firelab) in Missoula. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

5775 US Highway 10 W
Missoula, MT 59808-9361