Forest Fires in the United States: 17 February 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

17 February 2000

Several active fire signals were recorded by OSEI with the NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT satellite on 16 February 2000 in Florida.

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Fig. 1. Scattered heat signatures and smoke plumes from areas of fire burning in Florida. Some of this activity may be due to controlled burn operations.
(Source: NOAA/OSEI)

The Morning Report (16 February 2000) 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. “Wildland fire activity increased yesterday across the area.  The State of Oklahoma has been under a Red Flag Alert due to low humidity and dry, dormant grassy fuels. It is anticipated the Red Flag conditions will continue today.  The Asheville Hot Shots were committed to initial attack on a wildland fire on the Angelina National Forest in Texas.  Fifteen units are reporting high fire danger.”

The weather today will be dry and warm with highs in the 70’s and 80’s for much of the area.  The next chance of precipitation will be Thursday as another frontal system begins to move across the area.  Severe weather is expected in the eastern portion of Texas and southeast Oklahoma with rainfall expected in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.  Thursday this storm system is expected to move further east bringing severe thunderstorms to Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  This storm system will have the potential for tornadoes, hail, and damaging winds similar to the front last weekend which spawned the damaging tornadoes in Georgia.  All units of the Southern Area are advised to be alert to changing weather conditions over the next couple of days.

ALABAMA: Conditions have been favorable for prescribed burning.  Today’s temperatures are expected to be in the upper 60’s to 70’s with relative humidity in the 30-65% range.

National Forests in Alabama (AL-ALF):  Unit is planning to prescribe burn approximately 1620 ha today using both aerial and hand ignition.

ARKANSAS/OKLAHOMA: A cold front was expected move through Arkansas last night with limited precipitation.  Conditions for today are forecast to be dry with 25-35% humidity.
Oklahoma Division of Forestry:  Red Flag Alerts were issued yesterday for windy conditions.  Some chance of rain is expected tonight through Thursday.

FLORIDA: Reported 107 fires for 440 ha on 11-14 February.  Eighty-eight of those fires were human caused.

KENTUCKY: February 15th was the official start of the spring fire season for the Kentucky Division of Forestry.  Fire danger remains low to moderate across the state with additional rainfall forecast for Thursday and Friday.

LOUISIANA: Forecast calls for a chance of precipitation Thursday and Friday.

MISSISSIPPI: Weather today calls for cloudy skies with a 30% chance of rain.  High temperatures are expected to be in the 70’s.
The DeSoto Ranger District reported 1 fire for 36 ha.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Coastal areas are drying with sunny and warm conditions.  Prescribed fire activity is expected to resume across the area.

TEXAS: A chance of showers is forecast for portions of the area on Wednesday and Thursday.  The Asheville Hot Shots are committed to a 16 ha wildfire on the Angelina National Forest.

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 for 16 February (observation time) and 17 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 16 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, 16 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)

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. Fires and hectares year-to-date (11 February 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Wildland Fires Area Burned (ha) Alaska 0 0 Northwest 0 0 California 178 36 Northern Rockies 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 1 1.2 Western Great Basin 1 0.4 Southwest 103 3,178 Rocky Mountain 7 750 Eastern 24 161 Southern 4,052 26,841

Total United States

4,366 30,968

Tab.2. Prescribed fires and hectares year-to-date (11 February 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Prescribed Fires Area Burned (ha) Alaska 0 0 Northwest 3 590 California 40 914 Northern Rockies 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 3 11 Western Great Basin 0 0 Southwest 84 3,782 Rocky Mountain 0 0 Eastern 4 262 Southern 288 64,343

Total United States

422 69,897

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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