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The Northwest Fire Science Consortium works to accelerate the awareness, understanding, and adoption of wildland fire science. We connect managers, practitioners, scientists, and local communities and collaboratives working on fire issues on forest and range lands in Washington and Oregon.

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NWFSC is one of
fifteen regional exchanges
sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program.

Hot Topics


Resilience of Oregon white oak to reintroduction of fire

Authored by D.G. Nemens; Published 2019

Pacific Northwest USA oak woodlands and savannas are fire-resilient communities dependent on frequent, low-severity fire to maintain their structure and understory species diversity, and to prevent encroachment by fire-sensitive competitors. The re-introduction of fire into degraded ecosystems is viewed as essential to their restoration, yet can be fraught with unintended negative consequences. We examined the response of mature Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana Douglas ex Hook.; Garry oak) to “first entry” woodland restoration burns following long fire-free periods.


Rethinking resilience to wildfire

Authored by D.B. McWethy; Published 2019

Record-breaking fire seasons are becoming increasingly common worldwide, and large wildfires are having extraordinary impacts on people and property, despite years of investments to support social–ecological resilience to wildfires. This has prompted new calls for land management and policy reforms as current land and fire management approaches have been unable to effectively respond to the rapid changes in climate and development patterns that strongly control fire behaviour and continue to exacerbate the risks and hazards to human communities. Promoting social–ecological resilience in rapidly changing, fire-susceptible landscapes requires adoption of multiple perspectives of resilience, extending beyond ‘basic resilience’ (or bouncing back to a similar state) to include ‘adaptive resilience’ and ‘transformative resilience’, which require substantial and explicit changes to social–ecological systems. Clarifying these different perspectives and identifying where they will be most effective helps prioritize efforts to better coexist with wildfire in an increasingly flammable world.


Wildland Fire Science Needs in Oregon and Washington: Local and regional research availability, applications, and gaps

Authored by A. Ellison; Published 2019

The Northwest Fire Science Consortium (Consortium) works to accelerate the awareness, understanding, and adoption of wildland fire science by connecting users in the Pacific Northwest with the most useful resources available. These efforts require an ongoing understanding of how users access wildland fire science, the challenges and opportunities that they experience in using different types of research, and topics where more information is needed. Previous research, including a prior assessment by the Consortium in 2011,1 has highlighted the importance of local or regionally-relevant information among fire science users. In this assessment, conducted in 2018, we sought to update the needs assessment conducted in 2011 while investigating topics where local research was most needed. The specific objectives were to:
1.Characterize wildland fire science use among Consortium users;
2.Understand Consortium users’ perspectives about applying local and nonlocal research in their work;
3.Identify the place-specific research needs of Consortium users;
4.Develop recommendations to help guide the Consortium in outreach efforts.

We conducted interviews (n=20) with key wildland fire managers and stakeholders, and surveyed a broader audience (n=167) of Consortium users. Participants in both efforts worked primarily in Washington or Oregon and represented a range of disciplines, positions, and agencies or organizations, all engaged in wildland fire.


Fire behaviour and smoke modelling: model improvement and measurement needs for next-generation smoke research and forecasting systems

Authored by Y. Liu; Published 2019

There is an urgent need for next-generation smoke research and forecasting (SRF) systems to meet the challenges of the growing air quality, health and safety concerns associated with wildland fire emissions. This review paper presents simulations and experiments of hypothetical prescribed burns with a suite of selected fire behaviour and smoke models and identifies major issues for model improvement and the most critical observational needs. The results are used to understand the new and improved capability required for the next-generation SRF systems and to support the design of the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE) and other field campaigns. The next-generation SRF systems should have more coupling of fire, smoke and atmospheric processes. The development of the coupling capability requires comprehensive and spatially and temporally integrated measurements across the various disciplines to characterise flame and energy structure (e.g. individual cells, vertical heat profile and the height of well-mixing flaming gases), smoke structure (vertical distributions and multiple subplumes), ambient air processes (smoke eddy, entrainment and radiative effects of smoke aerosols) and fire emissions (for different fuel types and combustion conditions from flaming to residual smouldering), as well as night-time processes (smoke drainage and super-fog formation).


Severe Fire Danger Index: A Forecastable Metric to Inform Firefighter and Community Wildfire Risk Management

Authored by W.M. Jolly; Published 2019

Despite major advances in numerical weather prediction, few resources exist to forecast wildland fire danger conditions to support operational fire management decisions and community early-warning systems. Here we present the development and evaluation of a spatial fire danger index that can be used to assess historical events, forecast extreme fire danger, and communicate those conditions to both firefighters and the public. It uses two United States National Fire Danger Rating System indices that are related to fire intensity and spread potential. These indices are normalized, combined, and categorized based on a 39-yr climatology (1979–2017) to produce a single, categorical metric called the Severe Fire Danger Index (SFDI) that has five classes; Low, Moderate, High, Very High, and Severe. We evaluate the SFDI against the number of newly reported wildfires and total area burned from agency fire reports (1992–2017) as well as daily remotely sensed numbers of active fire pixels and total daily fire radiative power for large fires (2003–2016) from the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) across the conterminous United States. We show that the SFDI adequately captures geographic and seasonal variations of fire activity and intensity, where 58% of the eventual area burned reported by agency fire records, 75.2% of all MODIS active large fire pixels, and 81.2% of all fire radiative power occurred when the SFDI was either Very High or Severe (above the 90th percentile). We further show that SFDI is a strong predictor of firefighter fatalities, where 97 of 129 (75.2%) burnover deaths from 1979 to 2017 occurred when SFDI was either Very High or Severe. Finally, we present an operational system that uses short-term, numerical weather predictions to produce daily SFDI forecasts and show that 76.2% of all satellite active fire detections during the first 48 h following the ignition of nine high-profile case study fires in 2017 and 2018 occurred under Very High or Severe SFDI conditions. The case studies indicate that the extreme weather events that caused tremendous damage and loss of life could be mapped ahead of time, which would allow both wildland fire managers and vulnerable communities additional time to prepare for potentially dangerous conditions. Ultimately, this simple metric can provide critical decision support information to wildland firefighters and fire-prone communities and could form the basis of an early-warning system that can improve situational awareness and potentially save lives.


Factors Associated with Structure Loss in the 2013–2018 California Wildfires

Authored by A.D. Syphard; Published 2019

Tens of thousands of structures and hundreds of human lives have been lost in recent fire events throughout California. Given the potential for these types of wildfires to continue, the need to understand why and how structures are being destroyed has taken on a new level of urgency. We compiled and analyzed an extensive dataset of building inspectors’ reports documenting homeowner mitigation practices for more than 40,000 wildfire-exposed structures from 2013–2018. Comparing homes that survived fires to homes that were destroyed, we investigated the role of defensible space distance, defensive actions, and building structural characteristics, statewide and parsed into three broad regions. Overall, structural characteristics explained more of a difference between survived and destroyed structures than defensible space distance. The most consistently important structural characteristics—having enclosed eaves, vent screens, and multi-pane windows—were those that potentially prevented wind-born ember penetration into structures, although multi-pane windows are also known to protect against radiant heat. In the North-Interior part of the state, active firefighting was the most important reason for structure survival. Overall, the deviance explained for any given variable was relatively low, suggesting that other factors need to be accounted for to understand the full spectrum of structure loss contributors. Furthermore, while destroyed homes were preferentially included in the study, many “fire-safe” structures, having > 30 m defensible space or fire-resistant building materials, were destroyed. Thus, while mitigation may play an important role in structure survival, additional strategies should be considered to reduce future structure loss.


The emergence of network governance in U.S. National Forest Administration: Causal factors and propositions for future research

Authored by J. Abrams; Published 2019

Since its establishment in the early twentieth century, the U.S. Forest Service has periodically evolved its approach to decision-making and management for the millions of hectares of national forest under its authority. Starting in the 1990s, a complex governance regime emerged in which non-Forest Service entities—such as state and other federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, public utilities, rural communities, and others—contribute resources and legitimacy to processes that include decision-making, project funding and implementation, monitoring, and changes to management rules and procedures. This review analyzes the origins of an emergent governance regime and provides a framework for analyzing contemporary patterns of national forest administration, structured around three key elements. Legitimacy is a necessary component of any continued public resource management regime, and in the current period this resource is (re)constructed through networks of governmental and non-governmental actors, with collaborative processes playing a central role. Capacity is needed to implement and evaluate resource management decisions, and the capacity of the Forest Service is frequently augmented through partnerships with non-federal entities. Institutional innovation is often needed to align Forest Service constitutional and operational rules with socially legitimate management actions, and this process may occur most often in situations characterized by the involvement of network actors. Five propositions are presented as contributions to a research agenda on national forest governance. This framework contributes to a better understanding of the causes and consequences of environmental governance changes affecting federal forest landscapes, key ecosystem processes, and the livelihoods of human communities throughout the U.S.


NWFSC Research Brief #20 - Covering Wildfires: Media Emphasis and Silence

Authored by N.Fire Scien Consortium; Published 2019

In this study, researchers examined print media coverage, data of burned homes, and demographic data of towns impacted by two major wildfires in Washington State. The Carlton Complex burned over 250,000 acres and hundreds of homes in the Methow Valley in 2014, becoming the largest wildfire in Washington’s history. In 2015, the fires that made up the Okanogan Complex burned over 300,000 acres in the same part of northcentral Washington, destroying hundreds more structures and resulting in three firefighter fatalities. Researchers investigated the topics that were prominent and that were ignored in the media coverage of these two wildfires. In particular, they examined media coverage related to wildfire risk and firefighter safety, and compared the locations focused on in the media coverage of the fires in relation to the locations with the greatest damage from the fires.