Characterising resource use and potential inefficiencies during large-fire suppression in the western US

TitleCharacterising resource use and potential inefficiencies during large-fire suppression in the western US
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsKatuwal, H
Secondary AuthorsDunn, CJ
Tertiary AuthorsCalkin, DE
JournalInternational Journal of Wildland Fire
Start Page604
Keywordsfirefighting, large fire management, percentage contained, suppression resource effectiveness, technical reports and journal articles

Currently, limited research on large-fire suppression effectiveness suggests fire managers may over-allocate resources relative to values to be protected. Coupled with observations that weather may be more important than resource abundance to achieve control objectives, resource use may be driven more by risk aversion than efficiency. To explore this potential, we investigated observed percentage of perimeter contained and self-reported containment values, the exposure index, and patterns of resource use during the containment and control phases of fire response. Fireline production capacity of responding resources typically exceeds final fire perimeter, often by an order of magnitude or more. Additionally, on average, 21% of total incident resource productive capacity was observed on the fire during the control phase, that is, after the fires cease to grow. Our results suggest self-reported percentage containment significantly underestimates actual percentage of perimeter contained throughout an incident, with reported values averaging only 70% contained at actual fire cessation. Combined, these results suggest a fire manager’s risk perception influences resource use and may unnecessarily expose responders to fireline hazards. These results suggest a considerable opportunity to improve large-fire management efficiency by balancing the likelihood and consequences of fire escape against the opportunity cost of resource use.