technology

Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge and World Renewal Ceremonies into Fire Adaptation: An Indigenous Stewardship Model

"Shown in this image is a California-hazel-stem basket holding tanoak acorns that were collected from the 2015 Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) burn area. Also shown is a Karuk woman’s “work” basket cap and an acorn cooking paddle made of Pacific maple. These are a few of the resources used by Karuk women to gather and prepare acorn soup. This burn reduced acorn pests, cleared out surface and ladder fuels to improved acorn gathering, and maintained the tanoak cavity at the base of this older tree. Cavities like this are important habitat for animals that hunt small game that eat acorns. "  Credit: Frank Lake, USDA Forest Service and Karuk Tribe.

"Shown in this image is a California-hazel-stem basket holding tanoak acorns that were collected from the 2015 Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) burn area. Also shown is a Karuk woman’s “work” basket cap and an acorn cooking paddle made of Pacific maple. These are a few of the resources used by Karuk women to gather and prepare acorn soup. This burn reduced acorn pests, cleared out surface and ladder fuels to improved acorn gathering, and maintained the tanoak cavity at the base of this older tree. Cavities like this are important habitat for animals that hunt small game that eat acorns. "

Credit: Frank Lake, USDA Forest Service and Karuk Tribe.

In Hawaii, traditional ecological knowledge plays a critical role in the path forward towards more resilient and vibrant landscapes and communities. For example, restoring native dryland plants that are culturally significant along watersheds and even around your own home, helps to also reduce fire threats and impacts to our communities, lands, and waters. Hawaii is not alone in integrating traditional ecological knowledge with fire adaptation, there are many other great examples globally, including in the mainland U.S.:

From the Source: 

"The Karuk Tribe’s Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and belief systems are constructed and preserved in the form of stories, practices, performances and ongoing interactions with the natural world. Among such rituals include our World Renewal Ceremonies, which the Karuk Tribe has practiced since time immemorial. These ceremonies have been passed down for millennia, and are a key part of our local communities’ social fabric. They link human practices like fishing, hunting and gathering to responsibility. They also ceremonially align our culture with ecosystem process and function. In our worldview, cultural resources have a life, as do the people using them. Each life deserves consideration when planning projects, including fire adaptation projects."

New Haihai Fire Station Blessed

"Dennis Onishi and Harry Kim untie the maile lei." Credit: Big Island Video News

"Dennis Onishi and Harry Kim untie the maile lei." Credit: Big Island Video News

Congratulations to Hawaii Fire Department, the Hilo community, Mayor Kim and the County Council, and all others involved in the building and blessing of the new Haihai Fire Station. As HFD Chief Darren Rosario, also a member of HWMO's Technical Advisory Committee, mentioned in his speech, please do stop by the new station if you are in the area. Firefighters are willing and able to answer your questions on fire safety, or just get to know who they are serving. 

From the Source:

The Hawaii County Fire Department actually began operating out of the new facility at the start of November, but the event on December 14 was the community’s chance to celebrate the finished project. The new fire station allows the firefighters to relocate from their outdated facility on Kawailani Street.

9 Honored During Annual Sayre Foundation Awards Dinner

"Dr. Frank Sayre and his wife, Laura Mallery-Sayre, join Gov. Davis Ige and his wife for a photo with the 2017 honorees during the 20th annual Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Awards Dinner and Fundraiser on Saturday at The Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast." Credit: Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today

"Dr. Frank Sayre and his wife, Laura Mallery-Sayre, join Gov. Davis Ige and his wife for a photo with the 2017 honorees during the 20th annual Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Awards Dinner and Fundraiser on Saturday at The Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast." Credit: Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today

A toast to the Sayres for their incredible dedication to providing local first responders with the rescue equipment they need and to the nine honorees for their heroic rescue efforts. 

From the Source:

"In the past 20 years, the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation has raised $1.76 million, helping get emergency responders what they need to get the job done.

On a night dedicated to celebrating the impacts they’ve had on the lives they saved, the event’s honorees made special note of the impact the foundation has had on them.

'We’re just doing our job; we don’t do this to be recognized,' said Judd, who was honored for his involvement in resuscitating a heart attack patient and a cliff rescue. 'The heroes are the Sayres and the people behind this organization and those who support it.'"

This is How Much of the World is Currently on Fire

"September 2014 Happy Camp Complex Fire in the Klamath National Forest in California." Credit: US Forest Service

"September 2014 Happy Camp Complex Fire in the Klamath National Forest in California." Credit: US Forest Service

These interactive maps and graphics offer a grim look at what we might expect as a new normal with climate change. The world is on fire like never before this year. Hawaii is no exception.

From the Source:

"Here in the United States the Forest Service is reporting that 2017 is shaping up to be a worse than average fire year based on acres of federal, private and state land burned. So far, 5.6 million acres of land has burned this year, or 1.8 million acres more than the ten year average of 3.8 million acres burned by this time."

"Across the border from the United States, fires are also currently scorching Canada’s British Columbia. This is the province’s second worst fire season on record and NASA satellites have identified the conflagration from space."

"On the other side of the globe, if you load up the European Commission’s fire map, it looks like the end of the world, especially in Italy and Romania. So far, an area just slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island has burned. The total is already roughly three times the normal amount of summer wildfires. Back in June, 60 people died over the course of one weekend in Portugal due to wildfires. Thirty people were killed when the fires reached roads on evacuation routes. And as the map makes clear, those fires don’t seem to be abating, in part because of the hotter, drier temperatures."

Devastating California Detwiler Fire Can Be Seen From Space

Screenshot - Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series via Storyful

Screenshot - Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series via Storyful

Satellites have many uses and functions. Did you know they could also aid in firefighting?

From the Source:

"One of the largest recent fires in California has been the Detwiler fire. Since it began on July 16, the blaze has burned across 80,000 acres, destroyed 63 residences, and threatened nearly 1,500 more. Thousands of people have had to evacuate their homes, more than 2,000 firefighters have been deployed, and the fire has also come perilously close to Yosemite National Park."

"The images are not quite like those from a typical camera or what one would see with the naked eye if one were circling the Earth. The special images are instead created by overlaying infrared images onto geocolor, the Earth-like colors produced by the 16 spectral bands aboard the satellite. GOES-R's images are essentially a heat map created using the satellite's different spectral bands to detect the fire's hot spots.

In addition to helping firefighters monitor blazing fires, GOES-R has also been used to monitor other potentially disastrous weather. Earlier this month, the satellite captured images of three tropical storms in the eastern Pacific, tornado cells in Iowa, and a solar eruption."

Risk of 'Megafires' to Increase as Climate Warms

Scientists, using new imaging technology aboard two NASA satellites, predict that indeed a warming planet will lead to...more 'megafires.' With more and longer drought periods predicted for Hawaii on both the wet and dry sides, our islands will also most likely experience an increase in wildfire occurrence and severity as the climate changes. 

Projected changes in the number of days exceeding the 93rd percentile of the Fire Weather Index (FWI) by the mid 21st century (2041-2070) under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). Dark red shading indicates the largest increases, while the pale green hows small decreases. Red triangles and blue dots show recent extreme wildfire events as per previous figure. Source: Bowman et al. (2017)

From the Source:

"Recent research shows that the number of days wildfires are likely to burn each year is increasing as global temperatures rise. And the new study finds that extreme wildfires are likely to become more widespread in future, Bowman says:

'Climate change projections suggest that the geographic footprint of dangerous fire weather is likely to expand globally.'"

"The findings make a compelling case that adds to the mounting evidence on the increasing risk of wildfires, adds Giglio:

'Clearly on the current path we can expect a greater risk of extreme fires in much of the world. The outlook for the western United States is particularly worrying.'

While the publication of this study on the anniversary of Black Tuesday is a 'fortuitous coincidence', says Bowman, it highlights that the combination of cities surrounded by flammable forests and increasing wildfire risk 'will lead to more fire disasters'.

Brush Fire Flares Up Across From Sandy Beach

KHON2 Screen Capture

KHON2 Screen Capture

It may be surreal to watch as horses are led through sidewalks of paved streets in an urban neighborhood, but that was the reality on Saturday, February 4th when a couple wildfires in East Oahu filled neighborhoods with smoke (and burned to the edge of a home). If you have pets or livestock on a property, follow the step-by-step evacuation plan checklist on pages 15-16 of the Ready, Set, Go! Wildland Fire Action Guide.

Personal recreational drones complicated the firefight for Honolulu Fire Department. Please make sure to keep drones out of the air during wildfires as they are a safety hazard for helicopters. A trending YouTube video is not worth risking the lives and safety of our firefighters and communities.

From the Source:

"There were tense moments for homeowners, with one house just feet away from the scorched ground. Firefighters were stationed nearby to safeguard homes.

HFD Capt. David Jenkins said the fire quickly grew “with the winds being variable and blowing in different directions, causing some impact on the fire.”

The fire was called contained at approximately 3:45 p.m. No homes were damaged or directly threatened by the fire, and there were no evacuation of residents.

Jenkins did say that the fire did go up and into Koko Crater and the stables were evacuated. None of the horses were injured."

When Spark Meets Sprawl: Building in Wildlands Increases Fire Risk

Sand Fire. (Credit - Center for Investigative Reporting)

An incredibly thorough and comprehensive Center for Investigative multimedia article with many facts, figures, maps, images, and soundbites that is definitely worth checking out! This is the article to read if you want to learn more about the current state of the "Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI)" and the continuing risks developing into the wildlands presents for communities and our natural resources.

From the Source:

"Nationally, more than a third of new homes built since 2000 are in WUI areas. What has happened, wildfire historian Stephen J. Pyne wrote in 2008, is that we’re “leaving natural growth alone and then stuffing the openings with combustible structures.”

“Stephen J. Pyne, the wildfire historian, said that unless there’s coherent and coordinated policy that looks at development and forest management, these problems will be difficult to solve.

‘Otherwise, you’re just in the whack-a-mole mode and you’re not going to win,’ Pyne said. ‘In cities, every fire you put out is a problem solved. In wildlands, every fire you put out is a problem put off.’”

Hawaii's Wildland Firefighters Need More Resources

Three DOFAW firefighters watch as smoke billows from a distance. Credit: DOFAW.

Front page headlines!

With the ever-growing problem of wildfires statewide, Hawaii's first responders have faced numerous challenges accessing adequate resources to ensure communities and natural resources are out of harm's way. This is a great article that highlights the underlying issues of wildfire in Hawaii, the current realities of wildfire suppression across the state, and tactics that may help alleviate these issues. The answer: improved resources for wildland firefighting and a focus on pre-fire mitigation.

From the Source:

"Experts say both the frequency and size of wildfires have steadily grown in recent decades as changing weather patterns and invading fire-prone, non-native grasses and shrubs have put Hawaii’s forests and natural areas at greater risk of fire.

Data from a recent Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization study indicate that the average area burned each year in Hawaii has climbed by 400 percent over the past century.

The study also shows that an average of more than 17,000 acres has burned each year over the past decade, with some years exceeding even the most fire-prone Western states.

In fact, a greater percentage of Hawaii is under high risk of wildfire than any of the other 16 westernmost states, according to an assessment by the Council of Western State Foresters."

"Clay Trauernicht, extension fire specialist with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the state needs to provide more realistic funding levels to help protect the state’s natural areas in the face of a rapidly growing wildfire threat."

"Cutting firebreaks, reducing vegetation and brush, and working with landowners to provide access for water and vehicles help to minimize the size of fires, their impacts and their potential danger to firefighters, he said."

"Trauernicht said the state should consider establishing a full-time team dedicated solely to wildfires. Not only would it improve the division’s initial response, but the team could also conduct pre- and post-fire activities when not responding to fires, he said."

Fire Engine Donated to Hawaii CC Fire Science Students

"Hawai’i Community College Fire Science students and instructors from the Fire Science and Diesel Mechanics programs stand with the fire engine, donated recently by the Honolulu Fire Department. Back row: Matthew Winters, left, and Jacob Smith. Front row, left to right: Fire Science Instructor Jack Minassian, Kawai Ronia, Jayce Ah Heong, Michael Rangasan, and Diesel Mechanics Instructor Mitchell Soares. Hawai’i CC courtesy photo." (Credit: Big Island Now)

Congratulations to Jack Minassian, a long-time partner of HWMO, and all involved with the Fire Science program at Hawaii Community College. Thanks to Honolulu Fire Department donations, the Fire Science program will be able to provide hands-on learning experience for its students "as they prepare to enter the workforce." It's great to watch this program really grow every year!

From the Source:

“'This fire engine will be a great teaching tool,' said Hawai’i CC Fire Science Instructor ­Jack Minassian. 'For example, students in the fire hydraulics class will be able to practice providing proper water pressure and proper gallons per minute on a fire while using real equipment.'

Graduates of Hawai’i CC’s Fire Science program have been employed within federal, state, and local fire service agencies, according to Minassian."

Proposed Global Satellite Network Could Detect Wildfires in 15 Minutes

"FireSat, a concept developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, could detect wildfires within 15 minutes anywhere in the world. (Image provided by NASA/JPL)"

"FireSat, a concept developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, could detect wildfires within 15 minutes anywhere in the world. (Image provided by NASA/JPL)"

This might become the biggest game changer in wildfire detection, especially for remote areas (and Hawaii has quite a few of them).

From the Source:

"A San Francisco-based company wants to turn technology developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory into a global network of satellites that can report a wild fire anywhere in the world within 15 minutes.

The FireSat system, built around a low-power sensor that can detect fires once they reach 35 to 50 feet, would notify emergency services within three minutes after the detection. The system of more than 200 satellites would provide almost nonstop wildfire detection from space.

'You basically get coverage of every location on earth, once every 15 minutes,' said Arthur Lane, technical coordinator for FireSat at Quadra Pi R2E, the San Francisco Company behind the program."

Scientists Seek New Ways to Fight Wildfires

Screen capture from Al Jazeera video.

Screen capture from Al Jazeera video.

The wildfires in the Northwest that have claimed the lives of three firefighters brings up the importance of this new research being developed by former firefighters, research that will actually have useful applications in the field. The current standard, according to these researchers, of determining safety zones during a wildfire, is not enough. They are going into the heart of wildfires to develop a more precise formula for determining safety zones that will hopefully save firefighter lives.

When asked what the motivation for this research was:
"…their motivation is tragedies like yesterday. They think casualties from fires are preventable. They don't think firefighters should be putting themselves in these dangerous areas."


Two Years After Deadly Wildfire, Are There Lessons In the Ashes?

"An aerial view shows the Yarnell Hill fire burning June 29, 2013 near the town of Yarnell, Ariz. The next day, 19 firefighters died battling the blaze." Credit - Arizona State Forestry Division/Getty Images

"An aerial view shows the Yarnell Hill fire burning June 29, 2013 near the town of Yarnell, Ariz. The next day, 19 firefighters died battling the blaze." Credit - Arizona State Forestry Division/Getty Images

Check out this 5-minute audio report about the Yarnell Hill fire that claimed 19 firefighters' lives - interview with Kyle Dickman, a former hotshot who wrote the book "On the Burning Edge." "He tells NPR's Eric Westervelt about the wall of flames that the Granite Mountain Hotshots faced, and how the incident has - and hasn't - changed firefighting technology and practices.

From the Source:

"On one firefighter whose story sticks with him

One boy's name was Grant McKee; he was the youngest guy on the crew. And Grant McKee was really hesitant. He didn't necessarily want to join the crew, and he didn't want to be a hotshot, he wanted to be a paramedic. And so he had a really hard time sort of fitting into the rough-and-tumble culture of the hotshot crew. And I think what touched me about Grant's story was watching him come into it, so reluctant to join the crew, and then go from being an outcast to being an accepted member and actually sort of falling in love with the job.

On whether the tragedy was caused by bad luck or "unforgivable human error," and the changes he'd like to see

What I would like to see is a larger percentage of that money going toward preparing for wildfires. So instead of spending billions fighting them, we should be spending ... billions preparing for them — by thinning the forest, by using more prescribed fire, by letting more wildfires burn."

Fighting Wildfire with Satellites, Lasers and Drones

How technology is improving the ability to spot out wildfires - the challenge: getting that "information into the hands of the firefighters."

From the Source: 

"Fire lookout technology has changed a lot since Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. The book was taken almost entirely from a diary Kerouac kept when he was fire lookout for 63 days on Desolation Peak in Washington. Now, satellite images, fuel analysis, and, soon, the use of drones, are among the high-tech methods for protecting wilderness and civilization from wildfires.

Some of the more important real-time fire data comes from MODIS, a sensor on two NASA satellites that view the entire Earth’s surface every one to two days. The sensors show heat sources (that’s how a fire was first spotted in Noatak, Alaska by a fire manager looking at the data in the early 2000s). It was the first time a fire had been detected by satellite before humans noticed it, says Sean Triplett, the group leader for geo-spatial and information management at the U.S. Forest Service.

'Alaska is huge,' Triplett says. 'It’s a long flight from one side of the state to the other. MODIS was really able to allow us to cover the whole state really quickly, since it sees a larger area.'

After a fire, the U.S. Geological Survey’s LANDSAT satellite can be used to determine the severity of the burn by comparing a pre-fire photo of an area to a post-fire one. The differences in brightness allow scientists to determine the normalized burn ratio, as well as to reflect the changes on the ground."

Above: Credit - David McNew/Getty

Above: Credit - David McNew/Getty

Burn, Baby, Burn - If We Say So

From the Source: 

"What strategy might evolve for the Western wildlands?

The old fire exclusion paradigm had clarity—a bogus simplicity, but one easily communicated and measured. What has emerged to replace it can seem muddled and tricky to explain. The reality is that fire suppression remains dominant nationally, though it has acquired a lighter hand in the backcountry and a heavier one near exurbs. The other reality is that every wildland fire put out is a fire put off. Fire agencies now face a phalanx of changes that are powering conflagrations—not only the legacy of stockpiled fuels but also climate change, invasive species, a fractal exurban sprawl, and political gridlock. With no single cause, there is no single solution. Fire officers look instead for pragmatic responses, adapted to particular circumstances."

"Critics dismiss the outcome as a muddle, but others put a positive spin on it, arguing that it’s more of a mashup. They point out that the country does not have a fire problem: It has many fire problems, all of which require different approaches. In the public lands of the West, the options are few. Fire officers will have to manage their lands with the fires they get, not the ones they would like. In many wildlands they will work with fires that start from any source and “box” them in according to natural or built features that allow easier control. They will then burn out from those perimeters and fire out the interiors. This approach, officially known as “confine and contain,” unofficially as “box and burn,” is likely to become the primary strategy for managing fires in the West. This video demonstrates how a hybrid approach, including “box and burn,” was applied to the recent Slide fire outside Sedona, Arizona."

"So expect plenty of fires this season. Expect burns that make 1977’s 178,000-acre Marble Cone fire seem unexceptional. Expect critics to harp on wishy-washy policies and a lack of airtankers. Hope that we don’t see communities blown away or crews burned over. Then get used to it. It’s what the future of fire in the West will look like."

Above: "A wildfire threatens homes in San Marcos, California, on May 15, 2014. The blazes come amid record temperatures in the state, where the annual wildfire season typically starts much later in the year." Credit: Jorge Cruz/AFP/Getty Images

Above: "A wildfire threatens homes in San Marcos, California, on May 15, 2014. The blazes come amid record temperatures in the state, where the annual wildfire season typically starts much later in the year." Credit: Jorge Cruz/AFP/Getty Images

Dad of Fallen Arizona Hotshot Hopes to Make Better Fire Shelters (AUDIO)

Fire shelter improvements unfortunately spurred by the death of the 19 Yarnell Hill firefighters:

From the Source: 

"Firefighter Travis Turbyfill was killed one year ago by a wildfire after he and fellow members of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots deployed to a fire shelter in an Arizona box canyon. A fierce wind blew the Yarnell Hill Fire over the crew, killing 19.

Travis' father, David, doesn't want his son to have died in vain, and he's trying to help the U.S. Forest Service improve those shelters to withstand direct flames. All that remained of the Granite Mountain Hotshots' fire shelters — which are thin layers of foil and insulation designed to help protect firefighters as a fire burns over them — were twisted piles of crumbled aluminum and ash.

David has been conducting tests on new shelter material, and recently presented the results in a video. In it, a large metal pipe shoots fire for 30 seconds onto the current fire shelter material layered over a firefighter's yellow fire-retardant shirt. The shirt material winds up scorched and brittle.

Then he runs the same test, but for a minute longer, over a fireproof fabric Turbyfill found on the Internet. 'The firefighter's shirt is completely intact,' he says as he shows the camera the scorch-free yellow material.

For anyone who's seen a wildfire, the video gets your attention.

Turbyfill's metal fabricating shop is in Prescott, Ariz. There he talks statistics. In the past two decades, burn over and entrapment accounted for 25 percent of wildland firefighter deaths. In the case of the Yarnell Hill Fire, the wind pushed the blaze over the men and trapped them in a canyon.

'What I'm saying is that if you create a better fire shelter or survivable fire shelter product, that you could eliminate 20 to 25 percent of all fatalities. Eliminate. Not reduce, eliminate,' he says."

Above: "This aerial photo shows Yarnell, Ariz., days after a fire claimed the lives of 19 members of an elite firefighting crew." Credit: Tom Tingle / AP

Above: "This aerial photo shows Yarnell, Ariz., days after a fire claimed the lives of 19 members of an elite firefighting crew." Credit: Tom Tingle / AP

Super Choppers Confront California's Weird Wildfire Season (VIDEO)

From the Source: 

"A whirling black and yellow mechanical beast swoops in to battle a deadly wildfire. For victims, it's like the cavalry coming to the rescue.
They call it the Firehawk. 

Los Angeles County Fire Department senior pilot Tom Short talks about this helicopter like it's a super chopper.

"Having been in all of the aircraft that are out there fighting fires, the Firehawk is the best firefighting machine I've ever seen -- simply because of what it does," Short told CNN on the phone this week. "It does everything: fire, rescue and air ambulance."

Basically it's a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter outfitted with a giant water tank. This thing is engineered to get hellishly close to the heat of a raging inferno. Its dual souped-up engines can lift 9,000 pounds -- about the same weight as a large recreational travel trailer.

In preparation to dump water over flames, the Firehawk's snorkel can suck 1,000 gallons of water into its storage tank in the span of one minute.

"We really work these machines very hard. During some fires, Short said, "I've made over 100 drops in one day."

A firefighting super-chopper is especially valuable now, as California braces for what may be one of the worst wildfire seasons on record.

How worrisome is it? The state's firefighting agency, Cal Fire, has responded to more than 2,500 wildfires in 2014 -- a huge increase in the average number of fires at this point in the year, the agency says. In May, several fires in San Diego County forced thousands of residents from their homes and charred more than 31 square miles. The season usually doesn't ramp up until summer or fall."

Above: "The Firehawk is basically a re-purposed version of the Army's Black Hawk combat helicopter."

Above: "The Firehawk is basically a re-purposed version of the Army's Black Hawk combat helicopter."

66-Million-Year-Old Wildfire Reveals the Climate During the Last Days of the Dinosaurs

From the Source: 

"Archaeologists are learning a bit more about forest fires that occurred 66 million years ago during the time of the dinosaurs. They've discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology in Canada, revealing a bit more about the ancient climate of our planet.


In this case, the researchers managed to discover what is essentially a snapshot of the ecology on Earth at a time when the dinosaurs were on the verge of their mass extinction. The fossil record also reveals a bit more about how forests recovered after a fire.

'Excavating plant fossils preserved in rocks deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, we found some preserved with abundant fossilized charcoal and others without it,' said Hans Larsson, one of the researchers, in a news release. 'From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance.'"

"In fact, the plant fossils allowed the researchers to estimate, for the first time, climate conditions for the closing period of the dinosaurs in southwestern Canada. This shows exactly what the ecology was like right before the dinosaurs went extinct." 

Above: "Researchers have discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology in Canada, revealing a bit more about the ancient climate of our planet.This image shows the Las Conchas wildfire in the New Mexico region." Credit: Jayson Coil

Above: "Researchers have discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology in Canada, revealing a bit more about the ancient climate of our planet.This image shows the Las Conchas wildfire in the New Mexico region." Credit: Jayson Coil

How to Read the Mind of a Forest Fire

Very interesting article summarizing the history of fire science in the U.S. and the cool tools today's fire scientists use to predict fire behavior.

From the Source: 

"In a stand of ponderosa pine trees high in the Santa Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson, Arizona, forest-and-fire ecologist Don Falk squatted with me next to a 100-foot-tall tree born a decade or two before American independence. At the base of the trunk, the tree's thick cinnamon-colored bark gave way to a shallow opening a foot wide and two feet high that looked like a series of successively smaller triangles. Falk ran his hand along the charred edges of the opening and explained what we were looking at: a window into the forest's past, and fire's role in shaping it.

Falk studies fire-scarred trees to understand how frequent, severe, and widespread fires have been in an area, and how those patterns have shifted over the centuries--which is also a key to understanding why some fires are bigger, more unpredictable, and more destructive these days, 'How do you know anything on Earth has changed?' he asks. 'You have to be able to compare it to how things were in the past. This is how we know the history.'"

"'What's being released in a fire is the accumulated capital stored up through years of photosynthesis,' Falk says. 

You're not destroying the carbon, hydrogen, or oxygen molecules. They're just being liberated.' And on a tremendous scale: even a relatively small fire of a couple hundred acres can pump out energy equivalent to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and can push a mushroom cloud of hot air, ash, and soot miles into the sky."

"While Falk studies fires to better understand how they have changed over the years and altered the landscape, wildland firefighters study fire as soldiers might analyze enemy capabilities. They catalog mental snapshots of fire behavior they have encountered: how the flames ripped through a grassy canyon or hopped off the ground and leaped into the treetops; the strange calm before a sudden wind shift; the fire tornados that can spin flame in new directions. Early on, a rookie matches these images with what he's learned in training or heard from the veterans."

"'“We are living in a time that is unprecedented, with the extremes we're seeing in temperatures, precipitation, and winds, and with that, the effects are unpredictable,' Bahr says. 'If you don't have that in your slide tray, you aren't going to believe it.'"

"The presence of human structures means that forests and shrublands aren't allowed to burn the way they once did. It’s a problem that keeps getting worse. Because the federal government pays most of the tab for firefighting, local governments don't have as much incentive to regulate development in the most fire-prone areas. Some insurers charge higher premiums if homeowners don't mitigate fire dangers, and more communities are adopting building codes that require landscaping and construction materials that can better withstand wildfire and not carry flames through a neighborhood.

But most community-protection programs are voluntary, with progress outpaced by influx into the wildland-urban interface, and more homes at risk means more firefighters at risk."

Above: "Ecologist Don Falk points out a fire scar on a fallen tree stump." Credit: Brian L. Frank

Above: "Ecologist Don Falk points out a fire scar on a fallen tree stump." Credit: Brian L. Frank

Dry Conditions Fuel an Alaska Wildfire That's Bigger Than Chicago

From the Source: 

"Alaska is battling a huge wildfire this Memorial Day. In the last 24 hours the fire has spread to become bigger than Chicago, prompting officials to issue an order for about 900 people as it threatens Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a region south of Anchorage. With just 30 percent of the fire’s 243 square miles contained, 1,000 structures have been evacuated.

Large wildfires are familiar to the region, where 1 million acres burn annually, and yet it is unusually early in wildfire season to see a fire of this size, a spokesperson said. Citing “unusually dry conditions” as the cause, the Anchorage Daily News points out the state has had “unseasonably warm spring temperatures.”

But the real culprit for worsening fires is climate change, which boosts optimal conditions like heat, drought, and dry weather. This winter, parts of the country were hit by frigid temperatures while Alaska saw temperatures in the high 40s and 50s and had its all-time warmest January. In other words, Alaska saw spring-like temperatures as early as January and February this year. Some scientists say climate change fuels this extreme jet stream."

Above: Credit - NASA

Above: Credit - NASA