Forest Fires in the United States: 16 March 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

16 March 2000

The Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) is a contribution of “The Fire Behavior Research Work Unit”, Missoula (Montana USA). The broad area component of the Wildland Fire Assessment System (WFAS) generates 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. 1. & 2. Fire Danger Forecast Maps of the United States for 15 March (observation time) and 16 March (forecast) 2000
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

Several active fire signals were recorded by NOAA/OSEI with the NOAA-14  POES AVHRR HRPT satellite on 15 March 2000 in the southeastern US.

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Fig.3. Numerous heat signatures (red) and smoke plumes (light blue) may be seen from fires burning in the southeastern US, 15 March 2000. Some of this activity may be due to controlled burn operations.
(Source: NOAA/OSEI)

Wildland Fire Update (9 March 2000)
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) provides new data 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.

The national response level increased today (9 March 2000) as large wildland fires burn in eight states. Numerous large and small fires were reported from southern states ranging from Louisiana to Florida to Virginia. Southwest states are also reporting increased fire activity due to a warm and dry winter contributing to current drought conditions. The National Interagency Coordination Center at NIFC has processed orders for firefighting resources to assist with fire suppression efforts in Southern and Southwestern states.
Extreme fire conditions are being reported from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, as the La Nina weather pattern continues to affect storm systems throughout the country.
Long-range, 30-day weather forecasts are predicting above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the southern tier of states from southern California to Florida and throughout the Midwest (see 30 and 90-day forecast maps from the National Weather Service below).

Tab.1. Five-Year Wildland Fire Comparison Statistics Year-to-Date for the United States (9 March 2000)
(Source: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC))

As of 03/09/00 Number of Wildland Fires Area burnt Acres ha 2000 14,151 422,980 171,173 1999 18,805 114,093 46,171 1998 2,320 29,822 12,068 1997 4,557 97,149 39,314 1996 16,397 276,602 111,936

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Fig.4. 30 and 90-day temperature and precipitation forecast maps (March and March to May 2000)
(Source: National Weather Service, Boise, Idaho)

Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) by Florida’s Division of Forestry / Forest Protection Bureau
John Keetch and George Byram developed the K/B index at the Southern Forest Fire Laboratory to evaluate the effects of long-term drying on litter and duff and subsequently, on fire activity (1968). The index is based on a measurement of 8 inches (20 cm) of available moisture in the upper soil layers that can be used by vegetation for evapotranspiration. The index measure is in hundredths (0.01) of an inch of water and has a range of 0 through 800, with 0 being saturated and 800 representing the worst drought condition. The index indicates deficit inches of available water in the soil. A K/B reading of 250 means there is a deficit of 2.5 inches (64 mm) of ground water available to the vegetation. As drought progresses, there is more available fuel that can contribute to fire intensity.
For further information on the KBDI please refer to

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Fig.5. Keetch-Byram Drought Index Map of Florida, 14 March
(Source: Florida Division of Forestry)

The Florida 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 14 March these parameters show various fire weather conditions for 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.6.-11.  Output maps of the FFMIS, 14 March 2000
(Source: Florida Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) System)

The Southern Area Coordination Center Morning Report (15 March 2000) is a narrative summary of fire activity within the Southern Area including number of fires, wildfires as well as prescribed burns, and area. (For detailed numbers of wildfires and prescribed burns, please refer to the original website of the report.)

Southern Area Coordination Center (GA-SAC): Resource orders were placed for various miscellaneous overhead positions for Mississippi and
Tennessee. A resource order for the Prevention Team was placed with NICC. Two type II crews were reassigned from the Kisatchie
Wilderness Fire to a fire in Virginia.
Today’s weather for the Southeastern Area calls for rain moving eastward from Texas into Mississippi and Alabama on Wednesday. Rain and cooler temperatures are expected on Thursday for the Southern Area. Up to a foot of rain inundated areas of southern Texas with some locations reporting rainfall rates of two inches an hour. The injured firefighter in Texas is in intensive care awaiting skin grafts. Fortunately, the situation s not life threatening.
Southeastern and South Central Compact: No new fire activity.
Alabama Interagency Coordination Center (AL-AIC): The fire alert is still in effect for Baldwin and Mobile counties.
National Forests in Alabama (AL-ALF): The Oakmulgee Ranger District accomplished a 1,300 acre prescribed burn yesterday.
Arkansas/Oklahoma Interagency Coordination Center (AR-AOC): The forecast calls for increased rain today and into Thursday. No initial attack activity was reported. Prescribed burning is expected to continue today. No report received from Arkansas State.
Florida Interagency Coordination Center (FL-FIC): The Red Flag Warning is still in affect. Burning authorizations will be issued on a limited case-by-case, day-to-day, basis for Agricultural and pile burning only, with adequate heavy equipment on the scene.
Florida Division of Forestry (FL-FLS): The Benton Tower Fire is 100% contained and management of the fire will be turned over to the State Department of Forestry, Suwannee District today. Demobilization of the state “Red Team” will be at 1200 today. The North Boundary Road Fire is still active, in an inaccessible location, rain is needed, but not expected until the weekend or later.
Caribbean National Forest: (PR-CAF): Completing mopup on a 20 acre (8  ha) fire that started Monday. The Miricao Fire is burning on a plantation in the southwest portion of Puerto Rico burned 30 acres (12 ha). Crews stopped working last night due to unsafe conditions. Today the Fire Department will use a helicopter for water drops and the Forest Service will have equipment on the fire. The fire is close to a powerline.
Georgia Interagency Coordination Center (GA-GIC): Fire activity was light across the Region. One prescribed burn was completed and more will continue if the weather cooperates. A storm front is expected to move through the area Thursday.
Chattahoochee Oconee National Forest (GA-CHF): The Hickory Creek Trail Fire is 100% contained and controlled with mopup and rehabilitation continuing. Steep and rocky terrain as well as distance into the fire poses problems for firefighters.
Kentucky Interagency Coordination Center (KY-KIC): High pressure continues to dominate the area, bringing warmer temperatures and lower humidity, thus; increasing fire danger. Chance of rain on Thursday.
Kentucky Division of Forestry (KY-KYS): Two fires on March 11 of 11 acres were reported. Three structures were destroyed in Livingston County.
Mississippi Interagency Coordination Center (MS-MIC): The Burn ban was lifted yesterday.
North Carolina Interagency Coordination Center (NC-NCC): Asheville Hotshots are committed to the Hickory Knob prescribed burn.
National Forest’s in North Carolina (NC-NCF): The Croatan Ranger District accomplished a prescribed burn.
South Carolina Interagency Coordination Center (SC-SCC): Expecting a chance of precipitation on Thursday. Light to moderate initial attack expected through Thursday.
Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests (SC-FMF): Two new fire starts were contained during initial attack. The Goodbye Fire is completing mopup, patrols and using a helicopter to make water drops.
Tennessee Interagency Coordination Center (TN-TNC): Forecast is calling for higher temperatures and lower humidity. Expecting a chance of rain
tomorrow. Working on two prescribed burns today.
Virginia Interagency Coordination Center (VA-VIC): Conditions drying out after weekend rains. Temperatures will be in the 70’s (21-26°C)  with a chance of rain on Friday.
Virginia Department of Forestry (VA-VAS): Resources working a fire in Henry County. Structures are threatened, but none lost.
George Washington and Jefferson National Forest (VA-VAF): A type II crew and helicopter are on the Cat Fire on the Lee Ranger District. The Leap Fire was controlled at 1800 yesterday.

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)

Incident Management Situation Report (13 March 2000):

Current situation:
All large fires are contained and new fire activity has moderated in the Southern and Eastern Areas. Demobilization of resources from the Southern Area is underway. Very high to extreme fire indices were reported in New Mexico, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Florida will be mostly sunny today with light winds and afternoon humidity at 15 to 25 percent. High temperatures will range from the mid 60’s (15°C) to mid 70’s (24°C). Tomorrow Florida will have variable cloudiness with aslight chance of showers in the south and temperatures in the 70’s (21-26°C). Wednesday and Thursday will be variably cloudy with scattered showers or thunderstorms. Temperatures will be in the mid 70’s (24°C) to lower 80’s (26-29°C).
Georgia will be sunny today with highs in the 50’s and 60’s (10-20°C). Tomorrow and Wednesday will be partly cloudy and a little warmer. Thursday will bring a chance of showers and thunderstorms. High temperatures will range from the 50’s and 60’s (10-20°C) in the north to the 70’s (21-26°C)  in the southern part of the state.
South Carolina will be sunny today and tomorrow with highs of 55 to 65 (13-18°C). Wednesday will be partly cloudy with highs in the mid 60’s (15°C) to mid 70’s (24°C). There will be a chance of showers by Thursday.
North Carolina and Virginia will be mostly sunny with highs in the upper 40’s and 50’s (7-15°C)  today. Tomorrow and Wednesday will be partly cloudy with warmer temperatures. Thursday will be variably cloudy with a chance of showers or thunderstorms. Temperatures will range from the high 50’s (14°C) through the 60’s (15-20°C).
New Mexico will be partly cloudy today. There will be a slight chance of showers or thunderstorms tomorrow in the eastern part of the state. Wednesday the chance of thunderstorms will continue. Wednesday and Thursday will be breezy to windy in the east and southeast. High temperatures will range from the 40’s in the north to the lower 70’s (21-24°C)  in the southern part of the state.
Arizona will be mostly sunny in the south and partly cloudy in the north today and Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday will be partly cloudy with highs ranging from the upper 40’s (7-9°C) to the mid 70’s (24°C).

Tab.2. Fires and area burnt year-to-date (13 March 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Fires Area Burnt acre ha Alaska 0 0 0 Northwest 1 0 0 California 209 91 37 Northern Rockies 0 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 2 53 21 Western Great Basin 1 1 0,4 Southwest 390 156,375 63,283 Rocky Mountain 7 2,615 1,058 Eastern 642 15,549 6,292 Southern 14,809 287,809 116,472

Total United States

15,861 462,493 187,164

Tab.3.  Prescribed fires and area burnt year-to-date (13 March 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of Prescribed Fires Area Burnt acre ha Alaska 0 0 0 Northwest 20 2,618 1,059 California 65 2,433 984 Northern Rockies 0 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 4 49 20 Western Great Basin 0 0 0 Southwest 357 28,257 11,435 Rocky Mountain 0 0 0 Eastern 29 4,919 1,991 Southern 586 305,733 123,726

Total United States

1,061 344,009 139,215

Tab.4.  Wildland Fire Use (WFU) Fires area burnt year-to-date (13 March 2000)
(Source: Incident Management Situation Report)

Geographic Area Number of WFU Fires Area Burnt acre ha Alaska 0 0 0 Northwest 0 0 0 California 1 0 0 Northern Rockies 0 0 0 Eastern Great Basin 0 0 0 Western Great Basin 0 0 0 Southwest 1 300 121 Rocky Mountain 0 0 0 Eastern 0 0 0 Southern 0 0 0

Total United States

2 300 121

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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