Forest Fires in the United States: 4 February 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

4 February 2000

Several active fire signals were recorded by OSEI with the NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT satellite on 3 February 2000 in the southeastern United States.

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Fig. 1. Scattered heat signatures and smoke plumes from areas of fire burning in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
Some of these activities are may be due to controlled burn operations.
(Source: NOAA

The Morning Report of the SOUTHERN AREA COORDINATION CENTER is a narrative summary of fire activity within the Southern Area including number of fires, wildfires as well as prescribed burns, and area. “Wildfire activity across the Southern Area has been minimal, however Keetch-Byram Drought Indices (KBDI’s) are starting to climb due to the recent drying trend. A slight chance of showers is forecast for the southern most portions of Florida and Texas, but the rest of the area has no precipitation in the forecast through the weekend. High’s are expected to be between 10-15°C in most of the area. KBDI’s will begin to climb as temperatures warm up. The 6-10 day forecast shows mostly average precipitation and temperatures for this time of year, however portions of Texas, Florida, and Louisiana are expected to be warmer and drier than normal”.

In following states the number of fires and area were reported on 3 February 2000:

National Forests in Alabama: Conecuh Ranger District accomplished 433 hectares (ha) and the Oakmulgee Ranger District accomplished 162 ha of prescribed burning using aerial ignition yesterday.

Buffalo River National Park: Reported 1 fire for 0.4 ha.

Florida Division of Forestry: Reported 5 fires for 4.5 ha (1 February 2000).

Louisiana Office of Forestry: Reported 19 fires for 54 ha (1 February 2000).
Sabine National Wildlife Refuge: Reported 2 prescribed burns for 1,117 ha.
Kisatchie National Forest: Reported 1 wildfire for 3.2 ha and accomplished 5 prescribed burns for 1,360 ha. Areas on the Kisatchie are drying out quickly which will limit the winter prescribe burning program. Humidity has been in the 21% range and no precipitation is forecast until early next week.

South Carolina Interagency Coordination Center: Fire danger along the coastal areas is increasing from low to moderate. Prescribed fire activity is expected to increase the end of the week.

The Wildland Fire Assessment System is a contribution of “The Fire Behavior Research Work Unit”, Missoula (Montana USA). The broad area component of the Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) generated national maps of selected fire weather and fire danger components. Fire Danger (Potential) is a normalized adjective rating class across different fuel models and station locations. It is based on information provided by local station managers about the primary fuel model, fire danger index selected to reflect staffing level, and climatological class breakpoints. Low danger (class 1) is green and extreme potential (class 5) is red.

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Fig. 2. and 3. Fire Danger Forecast Maps of the United States and Alaska for 3 February (observation time) and 4 February (next day forecast; right map) 2000
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

The Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) System consists of six components that account for the effects of fuel moisture and wind on fire behavior. The first three components are fuel moisture codes that follow daily changes in the moisture contents of three classes of forest fuel with different drying rates. The last three components are fire behavior indexes, representing rate of spread, amount of available fuel, and fire intensity; their values increase as fire weather severity increases.
For detailed information on the Florida Fire Management Information System the GFMC would like to refer to the original website.

According to the FFMIS for 2 February 2000 these parameters show various fire weather conditions over Florida.

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Fine Fuel Moisture Code

Duff Moisture Code

Drought Code

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Initial Spread Index

Buildup Index

Fire Weather Index

Fig.4.-9.  Output maps of the FFMIS, 2 February 2000

According to the INCIDENT MANAGEMENT SITUATION REPORT three categories of fires are distinguished, such as:
1. Fires*
2. Prescribed Fires
3. Wildland Fire Use Fires**

*  This classification corresponds to the category “wildland fires” as defined by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)
** A brief excursion to wildland fire terminology:

Wildland Fires: Fires occurring on any tpye of vegetation, regardless of ignition sources, damages or benefits.

Wildfire: Any uncontrolled wildland fire which (1) may require suppression response, or (2) any uncontrolled wildland fire which meets management objectives and is declared as a Wildland Fire Use Fire (see below) or syn. Prescribed Natural Fire or Prescribed Fire.

Prescribed Fire: Occasionally also called management-ignited fire, or prescribed burning, is a controlled application of fire to vegetation in either their natural or modified state, under specified environmental conditions which allow the fire to be confined to a predetermined area and at the same time to produce the intensity of heat and rate of spread required to attain planned resource management objectives.

Wildland Fire Use Fire: Naturally ignited fire which is managed to achieve resource benefits under close supervision (syn. Prescribed Natural Fire)

The five-year wildand fire comparison satistics (year-to-date) reveal that the number of wildland fires and the burned areas as of 31 January 2000 for the United States are very high as compared to the preceding four years. Currently, Wildland Fire Use Fire data are not available. The differentiation of the above mentioned three fire classes do not point out clearly for the moment, whether the classified wildland fires included prescribed burned areas.

Tab.1. Five-year wildland fire comparison statistics (year-to-date) for the United States
(Source: National Interagency Fire Center)

As of 31 January 2000 Number of Wildland Fires Area Burned (ha) 2000 2,796 16,291 1999 800 1,571 1998 65 196 1997 493 712 1996 883 7,383

Tab.2. Number of wildland fires and hectares affected by geographic area.
(Source: National Interagency Fire Center)

Geographic Area Number of Wildland Fires Area Burned (ha) Alaska 0 0 Northwest 0 0 California 139 33 Northern Rockies 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 1 1.2 Western Great Basin 1 0.4 Southwest 43 1,599 Rocky Mountain 7 759 Eastern 17 115 Southern 2,588 13,784

Total United States

2,796 16,291

Tab.3. Number of prescribed fires and hectares
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Prescribed Fires Area Burned (ha) Alaska 0 0 Northwest 0 0 California 22 483 Northern Rockies 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 2 4 Western Great Basin 0 0 Southwest 28 736 Rocky Mountain 0 0 Eastern 2 232 Southern 108 16,675

Total United States

162 18,132

Remarks on Prescribed Burning

At this time of the year prescribed burning operations are conducted routinely.

Fire is an important natural tool for ecosystem management. It can reduce dense vegetation improving wildlife habitat and lessening the potential for large, wildfire disasters. Land managers are directed to prepare a prescribed fire/burn plan for every area of public land that can burn. Some areas require total suppression while others will benefit from a wildland fire. Those areas that will benefit from a fire can be treated by a prescribed fire.

Especially, for the moment, in the southern and southeastern regions of the United States prescribed fire activities will be carried out in the following weeks and months. In this case, fire signals on satellite images can be traced back to this kind of land management activities.

In the Prescribed Fire Position Paper of the Forest Protection Bureau by the Division of Forestry in Florida, prescribed fire activity is described as a land management application that is essential to the practice of forestry, management of wildlife, preservation of endangered plant and animal species, improvement of range conditions and reduction of wildfire damage in the wildland/urban interface areas. While there is general public and landowner concern with increased smoke, reduced air quality, and liability; the general public and landowners benefit significantly from the reduction of devastating wildfire, improved wildlife habitat and forage, preservation of endangered and threatened plant and animal species, and improved management of forest resources. The prospect of severe reductions in the utilization of this management tool is of major concern to Florida’s natural resource managers and conservationists due to the subsequent loss of derived public and private benefits. They suggest the need for legislative attention.

Another report on nation-wide prescribed burning in the U.S.A. was published in  International Forest Fire News No.19 (September 1998).

A set of photographic documents on prescribed burning techniques and objectives in the Southeast can be visited in our photo archive.

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