Forest Fires in the United States: 28 February 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

28 February 2000

Wildland Fire Update
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) provides new data (22 February 2000) of the current wildland fire season in the United States. These data were analysed after different geographic regions. Further, a  five-year wildland fire comparison statistic shows the number and the area of wildland fires from 1996 to 2000.

Five wildland fires ranging from 150 to 40,330 acres (16,132 hectares [ha]) were reported from New Mexico last week contributing to the nearly 100,000 acres (40,000 ha) affected nation wide in just seven days.
Wildland fire activity so far in 2000 is about four times greater than the four-year average, and almost double that of the record-setting 1996 season (see year-to-date statistics). Contributing to this activity are conditions from southern California to the Midwest and into Georgia where moderate to severe drought is being reported.
Another significant figure for the beginning of the 2000 season is the number of acres treated by prescribed fire. In the first 50 days of the year, land managers ignited 505 prescribed fires treating more than 200,000 acres (80,000 ha) of public land. Prescribed burns are planned under specified conditions intended to improve the health of the natural landscape and/or reduce hazardous build-up of vegetation that lead to devastating wildland fires.

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Fig. 1. Geographical regions of the United States (modified map from National Interagency Fire Center).

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 27 February (observation time) and 28 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 (FFMIS) the GFMC would like to refer to the original website.

According to the FFMIS for 27 February 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, 27 February 2000 (update: 28 February)

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.



Arizona and New Mexico will be dry and windy today as an upper trough moves east. Winds will abate Saturday and temperatures will be warmer. The next system will bring a chance of valley rain and mountain snow showers on Monday, with thunderstorms possible in northern portions of Arizona and New Mexico. Tuesday through Thursday will be dry, with increasingly breezy conditions by Thursday. High temperatures will be in the 40s to 50s in the north, and 60s to 70s in the southern part of both states.

The western parts of Texas and Oklahoma will be windy and cooler today, with showers and thunderstorms likely. Conditions will become drier Tuesday and Wednesday, with thunderstorms and showers returning by late Thursday. High temperatures will be in the 50s in the northern and western portions of Texas and in Oklahoma, and into the lower 70s in southern and eastern Texas. Saturday through Thursday will bring warming temperatures throughout the region.

An upper level trough will move through the southeastern states over the next three days, bringing showers and thunderstorms to Arkansas and Louisiana today.Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi will have showers Saturday. By Sunday the system will move into Georgia and Florida. A drying trend will follow on Sunday and Monday. The next trough will bring another round of showers and thunderstorms to the western part of the Southern Area on Tuesday, moving to the eastern part by Thursday. High temperatures will range from the 60s in the north to the lower 80s in the south. (Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Tab.1. Fires and hectares last week (25 February 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Wildland Fires Area Burned (ha) Alaska 0 0 Northwest 0 0 California 16 0,4 Northern Rockies 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 0 0 Western Great Basin 0 0 Southwest 5 6 Rocky Mountain 0 0 Eastern 2 41 Southern 1,549 11,661

Total United States

1,572 11,708

Tab.2. Fires and hectares year-to-date (25 February 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Prescribed Fires Area Burned (ha) Alaska 0 0 Northwest 0 0 California 203 37 Northern Rockies 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 1 1,2 Western Great Basin 1 0,4 Southwest 1,375 39,147 Rocky Mountain 2 745 Eastern 28 207 Southern 6,857 44,429

Total United States

8,467 84,566

Tab.3.  Prescribed fires and hectares year-to-date (25 February 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Prescribed Fires Area Burned (ha) Alaska 0 0 Northwest 19 815 California 49 1,153 Northern Rockies 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 3 8 Western Great Basin 0 0 Southwest 298 7,073 Rocky Mountain 0 0 Eastern 6 337 Southern 399 83,434

Total United States

744 92,823

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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