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Fire, Fuel and Smoke


Wildland fires emit a substantial amount of atmospheric pollutants including carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), non-methane organic compounds (NMOC), nitrogen oxides (NOX), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and black carbon (BC). These emissions have major impacts on regional air quality and global climate. In addition to being primary pollutants, the photochemical processing of NOX and NMOC leads to the formation of ozone (O3) and secondary PM2.5.
Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists and their partners are conducting a project to explore what makes fuel treatments effective. The project, STANDFIRE, is a platform through which new fire science can be tested, assessed, and incorporated into fuel treatment analysis.
Considerable effort is expended to determine fuel loading and to map those loadings across the landscape, yet there is little or no work being done to determine how to incorporate those measurements into the next generation of fire behavior models, such as physics-based models. Identifying critical spatial and temporal fuel characteristics required by these models may help to refine field sampling procedures and ensure a tight coupling between how fuels are measured and how those measurements are then used to assess potential fire behavior.
For decades, the cause and timing of a 'spring dip' in foliar moisture content in red and jack pine in the Great Lakes region have been poorly understood. This project studies the drivers of this 'dip' in order to improve wildland firefighter preparedness.
Wildland fire management teams may be faced with the potential for fires to damage power transmission or telecommunication lines, which can suffer damage severe enough to cause failure of the system, with critical implications for public safety. Standards for clearing vegetation away from lines, poles, and towers help minimize the risk of fires being ignited by electricity arcing from the line to the ground, but a remaining question is how much clearing is needed to reduce the risk of a nearby wildfire inflicting thermal damage to the transmission or telecom system.
Wind predictions in complex terrain are important for a number of applications including wildland fire behavior, transport and dispersion of pollutants, and wind energy applications. Fine-scale changes in topography and vegetation substantially alter the flow field. Thus, accurate modeling for these applications in complex topography requires near-surface flow field predictions at a high spatial resolution.
While the U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets on its lands in the western United States, two questions remain to be definitively answered: 1) Can exploding targets be demonstrated to cause ignition? 2) If so, what factors contribute to ignition?
Experimental evidence now shows that flame impingement is required for the ignition of fine fuel particles responsible for the spread of wildland fires. However, the characteristics of the non-steady flame zone that produce convective heating of fuel particles has not been studied. It is not known how to describe - qualitatively or mathematically - the flame dynamics that allow forward spread of wildland fires.
Fire spread in live fuels has long presented conundrums for managers and defied explanation by researchers. Fire, Fuel and Smoke researchers with collaborators from the Fire and Fuels Program at the Pacific Southwest Research Station, Brigham Young University, and the University of Alabama-Huntsville performed a two-year study of the seasonal changes in the ignition behavior of ten shrub and tree species from southern California, Utah, western Montana, and Florida.