Forest Fires in the United States: 14 April 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

14 April 2000

Authorities suspect teen of setting fire that has burned nearly 15,500 acres
Friday, 14 April 2000 by Brigid O’Maley, Naples Daily News
A teen-ager is suspected of setting fire to an aerosol can, which started a wildfire that has burned since last weekend, blackening nearly 15,500 acres (6,272 hectares [ha] in eastern Collier County. The Golden Gate Estates fire, which hugged the fringes of Big Cypress National Preserve, is one of the largest in recent Collier County history. Fifteen years ago, about 15,000 acres (6,070 ha) burned, but in 1981, more than 155,000 acres (62,726 ha) burned in the Big Cypress preserve near Monroe Station in the eastern part of the county. More rain today and throughout the weekend should help dampen more of the fading fires, which took a calming hit from rainshowers on Thursday afternoon. As of Thursday night, 75 percent of the fire, which caused no serious injuries, was under control — and most of it far from homes. A 20-mile fire line was keeping the flames in check. Earlier this week, schools in the area were evacuated and motorists kept away from major thoroughfares such as Collier Boulevard, formerly County Road 951, in Golden Gate, when fire threatened to jump the road and put thousands of residents in the path of the moving flames. Florida Division of Forestry officials increased the damage toll from the fire Thursday to three mobile homes, four masonry block houses and two semi-truck trailers. An additional 44 mobile home or block houses were saved from the flames by the nearly 200 firefighters who battled the firestorms. Several lightning strikes Thursday reignited some of the brush, but did no more major fire damage because firefighters were on top of the flames right away. One flareup broke through the firefighters’ line of defense near 64th Avenue Southeast and Miller Boulevard, ripping through an additional 4 acres (1.6 ha). Local and state firefighters got a big hand Thursday from North Carolina in the form of a 20-person crew of federal firefighters who call themselves the Asheville Interagency Hotshot Crew.

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Fig.1. Map of the Southern Golden Gate Estates Fire/Florida, 14 April 2000.
Map Source: George Sterling, Naples Daily News Stuff

Since January, state officials report more than 53,000 acres (21,448 ha) have burned across Florida the state in 2,073 fires. Fire season lasts until July.

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. 2. & 3. Fire Danger Forecast Maps of the United States for 13 April (observation time) and 14 April (forecast) 2000
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

Wildland Fire Update (10 April 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.

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Fig.4. Geographic areas and coordination centers
(modified map from National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)).

Firefighting personnel and resources responded to more than 400 wildland fires throughout the country over the weekend. Severe fire conditions currently exist in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri and Virginia.
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 Fig.5. 30 and 90-day forecast maps).

Tab.1. Five-Year Wildland Fire Comparison Statistics Year-to-Date for the United States (10 April 2000)
(Source: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC))

As of 04/10/00 Number of Wildland Fires Area burnt Acres Hectars 2000 22,794 608,445 246,228 1999 20,659 240,712 97,412 1998 10,528 199,277 80,644 1997 15,281 292,269 118,277 1996 39,209 996,248 403,167

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Fig.5. 30 and 90-day temperature and precipitation forecast maps (April and April to June 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 Keetch-Byram Drought Index Revisited: Prescribed Fire Applications.

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Fig.6. Keetch-Byram Drought Index Map of Florida, 13 April 2000
(Source: Florida Division of Forestry)

The Southern Area Coordination Center Morning Report (13 April 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: Fire danger is reported at low to moderate throughout the area. Wet and sloppy weather is predicted for much of the area, followed by sunny weather approaching from the west.
Alabama Interagency Coordination Center: Rain and possible thundershowers predicted.
Arkansas/Oklahoma Interagency Coordination Center: Up to 2” of rain reported in some areas. Reported no activity.
Florida Division of Forestry: MERRITT FIRE – This 15,500-acre (6,070 ha) fire is located south east of Naples. It was discovered on Monday and is 50 percent contained. A Division Incident Command Team, Army National Guard, local firefighting agencies, Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Park personnel, and Asheville Hotshots are among the 210 people working on this wildland fire. A wind shift yesterday afternoon pushed the fire back into burned areas. Equipment being used on the fire includes five helicopters, three fixed-wing aircraft, seven fire engines, four swamp buggies called “panthers,” and eight water trucks. This wildland fire has destroyed 1 home, two trailers and some hunt camps. On Wednesday a fire engine was burned over, though the two operators escaped harm. At this time, the fire’s cause is under investigation. This fire is burning in cap-rock terrain, where volatile saw palmetto bushes and cabbage palm trees grow.
Everglades National Park: The park is reporting high drought conditions with some areas not having received rain during the last 22 days.
Kentucky Interagency Coordination Center: Low fire activity and danger reported. It also remains low across the State. Rainfall of .6”-1.14” fell throughout Kentucky on Wednesday.
Cumberland Gap NHP: Park staff initiated a search and rescue operation Tuesday afternoon when an employee was separated from their crew. The employee was found, with no injuries, on Wednesday morning in a remote area of the Park.
North Carolina Interagency Coordination Center: Chance of rain and some winds predicted.
North Carolina Division of Forest Resources & National Forests in North Carolina: McConnell Cove Fire, 228 acres (92 ha), 100 percent contained on Tuesday, 12 April 2000. Mop activities continue and the fire will be patrolled until significant rain is received.
South Carolina Interagency Coordination Center: The State is still dry with high fire danger in some areas. Only .1”-.2” of rain fell in some parts of the State on Wednesday. The extended forecast calls for cloudy and warm conditions with a chance of rain through the weekend.
Francis Marion & Sumter National Forests: Forest fire staff conducted a prescribed fire.
Tennessee Interagency Coordination Center: Rain anticipated throughout the weekend. No additional information received.
Texas Interagency Coordination Center: No additional information reported. Drizzle followed with clearing weather is predicted.
Virginia Interagency Coordination Center: Gusty north winds predicted for this afternoon, followed by rain. Little rain received yesterday. The next rain is forecast for this weekend.

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 April 2000):

Current Situation:
Initial attack activity was light nationwide. All large fires in the Southwest Area have been contained. Very high to extreme fire indices were reported in Arizona and Virginia.
Arizona and New Mexico will be mostly sunny and warmer. High temperatures will be in the mid 60’s (15°C) in the mountains, and in the mid 90’s (32°C) in the southern valleys. Winds will be southwest at 10 to 20 mph.
Florida will be mostly cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms throughout the state. Temperatures will be in the mid 70’s (21°C) in the north and in the mid 80’s (26°C) in the south. Winds will be east to southeast at 5 to 15 mph.
North Carolina will be mostly cloudy with a chance of rain. Highs will be in the 50’s (10°C) inland and in the 60’s (15°C) near the coast. Winds will be northeast to east at 5 to 15 mph.

Detailed information and data about fires, prescribed fires, wildland fire use fire and burned areas (13 April 2000) for all geographic areas of the United States can begathered from the Incident Management Situation Report.

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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