GFMC: Forest Fires in the United States: 31 May 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

31 May 2000

Fires in Florida
A 7,000 acre fire is burning in the Holeyland Wildlife Management Area in Palm Beach County, on lands protected by the Florida State Division of Forestry. The fire is burning in grass and swampland in a conservation area. The fire is being monitored at this time. There is not estimated date of containment.
A number of fires are burning throughout Florida on 29 and 30 May 2000. Smoke (light blue) is also visible from the large fire burning near Gainsville. Authorities have reported numerous other fires whose heat signatures are apparently too small to be detected by the 1 km resolution of the satellite. Additional fires may be obscured by clouds.

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Fig. 1. and 2. NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT multichannel color composite for Florida.
(Source: NOAA/OSEI).

The dry weather conditions in Florida continue with no rain, low humidity, and high and strong winds. After Florida experienced many wildfires in 1998, the state increased its spending on firefighting equipment and shifted firefighters’ training to better prepare them to handle wild fires. Because there has been so little rain in recent months, the pine needles are hitting hot spots on the ground where fires were only recently extinguished, resulting in new fires. More than 20,000 acres have burned in all this year, though there have been few injuries. North-central Florida has become particularly vulnerable.

Fire in New Mexico
A 2,000 acre fire is burning on the Santa Fe National Forest eight miles northeast of Pecos, New Mexico. Extreme fire behavior and dry fuels are causing spot fires ½ mile ahead of the fire. Current threats are to summer homes and year-round homes. There have been some evacuations. There is no estimated date of containment. The heat signature from the Viveash Fire in New Mexico is visible in the image. The fire is located about  45 miles southeast of Los Alamos. Large areas of red in the image are caused by solar heating and the high temperatures that the Southwestern US has experience for the past several weeks. The Rio Grande river is clearly visible as a long green thread in a sea of bright red.

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Fig. 3. NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT multichannel color composite for Florida.
(Source: NOAA/OSEI).

The fire in north-central New Mexico burned ponderosa pine and mixed conifers, sending columns of white-gray smoke spiraling thousands of feet into the air. The fire is near the village of Pecos, in an area popular for camping, hiking and hunting and dotted with homes and vacation cabins. Hundreds of firefighters worked to contain the fire, but conditions were deteriorating. Temperatures are several degrees hotter than they were earlier this month when the Cerro Grande Fire broke out.

Wildfires on Tuesday also scorched parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana and Utah. Hot, dry weather left huge sections of the region vulnerable.
PUMPKIN: This 7,500 acre fire is burning on the Kaibab National Forest, 25 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. The fire is burning within the Kendrick Wilderness Area. 870 people are working on the fire. Trees and brush are being removed to protect private property. There is no estimated date of containment.
AZUZA: this 2,000 acre fire is burning on the Inyo National Forest near Lee Vining, California. There are 344 persons working on the fire. 40% of the work has been completed to contain this fire.
SWEETWATER: This 700 acre fire is burning on Bureau of Land Management administered lands 50 miles southeast of Vernal, Utah. The fire is burning in pinyon-juniper fuels near the Book Cliff area. There is no estimated date for containment.
TAYLOR: This 1,300 acre fire is burning on Bureau of Land Management administered land six miles east of Rangely, Colorado. High winds are causing a rapid rate of spread. There is no estimated date of containment.
HARPERS RIDGE: All of the work to contain this 600 acre fire has been completed. There will be no further report on the fire unless conditions change
(Soucre: Fire and Aviation Management Morning Report from the USDA Forest Service, 30 May 2000)

Wildland Fire Update for the United States on 30 May 2000 (National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC))
Wildland fire activity increased during the holiday weekend. Lightning ignited fires driven by strong winds were reported in several states. There are currently 14 large fires burning in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Utah. Florida is reporting increased activity as dry, warm weather conditions persist throughout the state. A fire in the Osteen Complex in Volusia County, Florida, destroyed several structures, including three residences, and one vehicle.

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. 4.-6. Fire Danger Forecast Maps of the United States and Alaska for 30 May (observation time) and 31 May 2000 (forecast).
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) is a soil/duff drought index that ranges from 0 (no drought) to 800 (extreme drought) and is based on a soil capacity of 8 inches of water. Factors in the index are maximum daily temperature, daily precipitation, antecedent precipitation, and annual precipitation. KBDI = 0 – 200: Soil moisture and large class fuel moistures are high and do not contribute much to fire intensity. Typical of spring dormant season following winter precipitation. KBDI = 200 – 400: Typical of late spring, early growing season. Lower litter and duff layers are drying and beginning to contribute to fire intensity. KBDI = 400 – 600: Typical of late summer, early fall. Lower litter and duff layers actively contribute to fire intensity and will burn actively. KBDI = 600 – 800: Often associated with more severe drought with increased wildfire occurrence. Intense, deep burning fires with significant downwind spotting can be expected. Live fuels can also be expected to burn actively at these levels.

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Fig. 7. Keetch-Byram Drought Index Map of the United States, 30 May 2000
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

For further information on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI) by Florida’s Division of Forestry / Forest Protection Bureau please refer to Keetch-Byram Drought Index Revisited: Prescribed Fire Applications.

Incident Management Situation Report (28 May 2000)
Current Situation:
New large fires were reported in the Southwest, Southern, Eastern Great Basin, Rocky Mountain, and Southern California Areas. Initial attack activity was moderate in Utah, Colorado, Florida and the Southwest. The National Interagency Coordination Center processed orders for helicopters, airtankers, an air attack plane, infrared aircraft, radio equipment, caterers, shower units, a commissary unit, crews, and miscellaneous overhead. Very high to extreme fire indices were reported in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, California, and Mississippi
A red flag warning is posted in southern utah for low relative humidities and strong winds.
A fire weather watch is posted in northern and central arizona for low relative humidities and strong winds.
A fire weather watch is posted in east central florida and the florida panhandle for low relative humidities and unstable air.
Southern Utah and southern Colorado will be mostly sunny. High temperatures will be 90 to 100. Winds will be south to southwest at 15 to 30 mph. Relative humidities will be 5 to 15 percent.
Arizona will be mostly sunny. Winds will be southwest at 15 to 30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph. Winds will be lighter in the southern part of the state. High temperatures will range from the 80’s in the mountains to near 115 in the deserts. Minimum relative humidities will be 5 to 15 percent.
New Mexico will be mostly sunny with scattered afternoon clouds in the north. Winds will be south to southwest at 10 to 20 mph. High temperatures will be in the 70’s and 80’s in the mountains and around 100 in the southern plains. Minimum relative humidities will be 8 to 18 percent.
Florida will be partly cloudy with a chance of scattered afternoon showers and thunderstorms, mainly in the southern part of the state. High temperatures will be in the 80’s on the coasts and in the 90’s in the interior. Winds will be northeast to east at 10 to 15 mph in northern and central Florida. In south Florida, winds will be southwest at 10 mph. Minimum relative humidities will range from 35 to 50 percent.
Southern California will be sunny except for patchy morning fog along the coast. Temperatures will be from the mid 60’s in coastal areas up to 110 in the deserts. Winds will be southwest to west at 5 to 15 mph. Minimum relative humidities inland will be from 5 to 35 percent.

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).

Tab.1. Five-Year Wildland Fire Comparison Statistics Year-to-Date for the United States (30 May 2000)
(Source: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)

As of 05/25/00 Number of Wildland Fires Area burnt Acres Hectars 2000 41,104 1,054,642 426,798 1999 40,038 775,424 313,802 1998 24,261 540,892 218,891 1997 27,133 429,237 173,706 1996 56,002 1,484,675 600,826

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Fig. 8. 30 and 90-day temperature and precipitation forecast maps (June and June to August 2000)
(Source: National Weather Service, Boise, Idaho)

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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