GFMC: Forest Fires in the United States, 6 September 2000

Forest Fires in the United States

6 September 2000

Several media releases and articles are available regarding to the current wildfire situation in the United States. Please have a look at:

  • Montana reopens forests as wildfire threat recedes (PlanetArk 6 September 2000)
  • Montana lands reopen; senator plans hearings on wildfire readiness (CNN, 6 September 2000)
  • Indian firefighters contribute their expertise (CNN, 5 September 2000)
  • More wildfires erupt deep in the hot of Texas (CNN, 5 September 2000)
  • Logging Does Not Reduce Fire Risk, Two Studies Conclude  (Environment News Service, 5 September 2000)
  • Fire alarm: World’s best battle blazes in West (Environmental News Network, 5 September 2000)
  • Debate rages over fire management policies (Environmental News Network, 5 September 2000)
  • Montana land reopening after rain (Environmental News Network, 5 September 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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Fire danger maps for the United States for 5 September 2000 (observation time) and 6 September 2000 (forecast)
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

Dead fuel moisture responds solely to ambient environmental conditions and is critical in determining fire potential. Dead fuel moistures are classed by timelag. A fuel’s timelag is proportional to its diameter and is loosely defined as the time it takes a fuel particle to reach 2/3’s of its way to equilibrium with its local environment. Dead fuels in NFDRS have four timelag classes:
1-hr: Fine flashy fuels, less than 1/4″ (< 0.63 cm) diameter. Responds quickly to weather changes. Computed from observation time temperature, humidity and cloudiness.
10-hr: 1/4 to 1″ (0.63 to 2.54 cm) diameters. Computed from observation time temperature, humidty, and cloudiness, or may be a standard set of “10-Hr Fuel Sticks” that are weighed as part of the fire weather observation.
100-hr: 1 to 3″ (2.54 to 7.62 cm) diameter. Computed from 24 hour average boundary condition composed of day length, hours of rain, and daily temperature/humidity ranges.
1000-hr: 3 to 6″ (7.62 to 15.24 cm) diameter. Computed from a 7-day average boundary condition composed of day length, hours of rain, and daily temperature/humidity ranges.

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10-HR Fuel Moisture

100-HR Fuel Moisture

1000-HR Fuel Moisture

Fuel moisture maps for conterminous US, 5 September 2000
(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.
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.

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Keetch-Byram Drought Index Maps for conterminous US, 5 September 2000
(Source: Fire Behavior Research Work Unit, Missoula)

Operational Significant Event Imagery (OSEI)
The following significant events were identified by Satellite Analysis Branch meteorologists and reviewed by the OSEI support team:

Clouds continued to cover much of the western states plagued by wildfires at the time of the NOAA-12 and 14 passes on the evening of 4-5 Sept. 2000 obscuring the heat signatures for the fires. A few heat signatures may be seen in southeast Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

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NESDIS/OSEI NOAA-14 POES AVHRR HRPT satellite image, 4 September 2000
Heat signatures (red) and smoke (light blue) are visible from a number of fires burning
in southeastern Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

The BLM – Alaska Fire Service Initial Attack Management System (IAMS) is suite of computer applications developed by BLM/Fire to aid dispatchers and fire managers. IAMS Maps is one of these applications and provides graphical representation of various kinds of geographic data. Maps has been modified to produce output to a Web site to allow internet access to the data that IAMS stores. Dynamic data such as lightning (available May – September), fires, etc. are updated at the homepage of the BLM – Alaska Fire Service  (select Maps / AFS IAMS Maps Viewer) every 15 minutes during the fire season.

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IAMS image of active fires in Alaska, 6 September 2000
(Source: BLM – Alaska Fire Service)

GeoMAC Wildland Fire Support
The GeoMAC (Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination Group) team has produced an internet based mapping application which allows firefighting coordination centers and incident command teams to access online maps of current fire locations and perimeters. Fire perimeter data is updated daily based upon input from incident intelligence sources, GPS data, IR imagery from fixed wing and satellite platforms. The fire maps also have relational databases in which the user can display information on individual fires such as name of the fire, current acreage and other fire status information. Additional data layers including fuel types, aircraft hazard maps, links to remote weather station data and other critical fire analysis information are currently being added to the GeoMAC application.

Fire and Aviation Management Morning Report (5 September 2000) [conversion table]
National Overview:
Preparedness Level V
A total of six new large fires were reported in the Southern Area. Crews reached containment goals on four large fires in Eastern Great Basin, Northwest and Northern Rockies. Initial attack activity was light in the nation except in the Southern Area where it was heavy. The forecast for Central Oregon is continued cool temperatures with a threat of showers to Northern California, Great Basin and Northern Rockies. The Gulf Coast states will continue with hot, dry conditions. Very high to extreme fire indices have been reported in areas of the western states, North Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Summary of Fire Activity Across The United States:

Yesterday Year to Date Ten Year Average Fires 165 74,755 62,107 Acres Burned 16,631 6,583,553 2,954,953 Estimated Daily Cost $14 million

Regional Summary:

  • In the Northern Rocky Mountains, there are 27 fires over 1,000 acres. Fire behavior is reduced and direct attack is being conducted in many areas.
  • There is a significant increase in fire activity in the Southern area. There are 9 fires over 1000 acres and 28 fires overall. 25 of the 28 fires are in Texas, fueled by low humidity and extremely high temperatures.
  • In the Eastern Great Basin, there are 9 fires over 1,000 acres. No containment dates are set.
  • The Rocky Mountain area has 2 large fires and containment is expected for both this week..
  • There are 2 fires over 1,000 acres reported in the Northern and Southern California areas.
  • The are 2 fires over 1,000 acres in the Western Great Basin.
  • The Northwest has 1 fire over 1,000 acre. Fire behavior has moderated due to light precipitation.

Note: Access summary information for individual fires from the NIFC Incident Management Situation Report.

Resources and Statistics:
Resources committed on September 4:
575 – 20 person crews 158 helicopters 4 Battalions military (500 each), 688 engines 42 air tankers 8 MAFFS-equipped military airplanes, 23,091 total personnel
Currently, there are 52 fires over 1,000 acres. The total number of acres burned this year is 223% of the ten-year to date average.

Other Information:
Three Army battalions are assigned to fires in Montana. The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment is assigned to the Clear Creek fire in Idaho.

Weather Outlook:
South Texas and the Gulf Coast states will be under a strong area of high pressure. A weak cold front will move across the Gulf Coast states. Continued hot conditions with only widely scattered afternoon thunderstorms are expected. Highs will be 85 to 95 with 100 to 110 in the hottest locations. Relative humidity will be 20 to 40 percent. Winds will be northwest to northeast 10 to 15 mph.
An upper level trough of low pressure over central Oregon will bring a threat of shower activity and high elevation snows to portions of northern California, Great Basin and Northern Rockies as it slowly moves east. Across the central Rockies and Southwest lingering monsoonal moisture will bring partly cloudy skies along with isolated showers and thunderstorms to the region.
In the north temperatures will generally be in the 50’s to mid 60’s in the mountains and the mid 60’s to 80’s elsewhere. Winds will be from the west to northwest 10 to 20 mph. In the Southwest and central Rockies temperatures will be in the 60’s and 70’s mountains and 80’s to 100 in the valleys. Winds will generally be from the west to southwest at 15 to 30 mph.

National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)
NIFC Wildland Fire Update (5 September 2000) [conversion table]
Continued wet and cool weather in the Northwest, Idaho and Montana is allowing firefighters to make good progress toward containing several large fires that have been burning for weeks. “The emphasis is now shifting toward rehabilitation in those areas,” said a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center. Canadian and military resources are being released as the number of crews and equipment become available for reassignment.
Record-high temperatures and low humidity are persisting in some southern states, including Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi. Those states are experiencing a significant amount of wildland fire activity and are requesting additional resources to assist in suppression efforts.
“Overall, we continue to watch the Gulf Coast states, and maintain a presence on the large fires in the West,” said the NIFC spokesperson.
More of the same weather is expected for today throughout the West and Southern area, but is expected to change during the next few days. A front moving through Texas and other Gulf Coast states will bring gradual cooling and higher humidity, but temperatures will still hover above normal. Warmer and drier weather is expected to move into the West during the next few days.
To date this year, 74,755 fires have burned 6,583,553 acres. The ten-year averages for September 5 are 62,107 fires burning 2,954,953 acres. See year-to-date statistics for comparisons to previous years.
There are currently 81 fires burning in Arkansas, California, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.

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Large Wildland Fires in the United States, 5 September 2000.
(Source: NIFC)

NIFC Year-to-Date Statistics for the United States (5 September 2000) [conversion table]

As of
5 September 2000
Number of Wildland Fires Area burnt
2000 74,755 6,583,553 1999 70,722 4,408,856 1998 62,114 2,070,241 1997 49,801 2,719,549 1996 86,547 5,805,959 1995 63,250 1,663,539 1994 58,414 3,300,290 1993 46,714 1,617,560 1992 70,544 1,551,752 1991 57,016 2,022,941 1990 55,944 4,388,842 1989 45,249 1,451,205 1988 68,061 3,651,270

NIFC Wildland Fire Potential Assessment (10 August – 7 September 2000):
ALASKA – Potential: Normal to below normal. Temperatures have been below normal and precipitation has been normal for the last four to six weeks. Fine fuels are green and fire activity should be minimal. Medium-range forecasts call for below normal temperatures.
NORTHWEST – Potential: Normal to above normal. Temperatures have been above normal and precipitation has been below normal in the area for the past month. Live fuel moistures are at or slightly below average in most areas and have been measured at 80% in central Oregon to 140% in western Washington. 1000 hour dead fuel moistures have been normal in the west and slightly below normal in the eastern portions. Measurements range from 21% in western Washington to 6% in southwestern Oregon. The area hasn’t had any large timber fires yet as grasses are still green at the higher elevations. The Palmer Drought Index (PDI) shows extreme and severe drought through much of eastern Washington and Oregon. The long-range weather forecast calls for above normal temperatures.
CALIFORNIA – Potential: Above normal. Temperatures have been above normal and precipitation has been below normal for the last 4 to 6 weeks. Live fuel moistures in the north are on the decline at 80% and in the south are being measured at 70%. 1000 hour fuel moisture is around 10 to 12% which is slightly below average. Areas east of the Pacific Coast Range are indicating above normal potential for large fire growth. PDI indicates moderate drought in the north and severe and extreme drought in the central and southern areas. Long- range forecasts calls for above normal temperature and below normal precipitation for central California.
NORTHERN ROCKIES – Potential: Above normal. Precipitation has been below normal in much of the area and temperatures have been above normal. Live fuel moisture is ranging from 70% in sagebrush at lower elevations to 125% in conifer species at higher elevations. 1000 hour fuel moisture is 7 to 15% in the east and 6 to 12% in the west but higher in parts of northern Idaho (15 to 25%). Expect large fire activity to continue until sufficient moisture is received. PDI indicates severe and moderate drought conditions in Montana and south Idaho. Long-range weather forecasts call for above normal temperatures.
GREAT BASIN – Potential: Above normal. Temperatures have been above normal during the past month while precipitation has been below normal through the area. Live fuel moisture is ranging from 45 to 112% in Nevada and 60 to 200% in the Eastern Great Basin. Fires have been exhibiting rapid rates of spread and 10 to 15 foot flame lengths in sagebrush fuels. The PDI indicates that the entire region is in severe and extreme drought conditions. Long-range weather predicts above normal temperatures for the period. Precipitation is forecasted to be above normal in southeastern Utah and below normal for southwestern Nevada.
SOUTHWEST – Potential: Normal to above normal. Temperatures have been normal and precipitation has been below normal. The monsoon flow from Mexico was less than normal for July and there are no indications at this time that it will strengthen. Live fuel moisture readings are lower than normal in central and northern Arizona where it is at 55 to 95% and normal, at 75 to 120%, in the rest of the area. 1000 hour fuel moisture levels are normal to above normal at 6 to 14% in Arizona and 10 to 18% in New Mexico. Palmer Drought Index (PDI) shows extreme drought conditions in Arizona and severe drought in central and western New Mexico. The long-range outlook indicates above normal temperatures and above normal precipitation for the next 30 days.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN – Potential: Above normal. Temperatures were normal to above normal and precipitation was below normal for the last four to six weeks. Live fuel samples are below normal for much of the area, ranging from 95% in ponderosa pine to 70 to 90% in pinyon pine and juniper fuels. 1000 hour fuel moisture is around 6 to 10 % in the west and 11 to 15% in the east, which is slightly below normal. Normal monsoon moisture did not move far enough north to provide relief from the dry conditions and continued large fire growth is anticipated. PDI indicates moderate and severe drought in most of the area except for southern Wyoming, where it is extreme. The long-range forecast calls for above normal precipitation for Colorado.
EASTERN – Potential: Normal. Temperatures and precipitation have been normal through much of the area except above normal in the New England states. Live fuel moisture has been measured at 125% and above in Jack Pine needles. 1000 hour fuel moisture average values are between 20 to 35% and are currently being measured at 21 to 30%. The blow down timber area of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness continues to be of concern due to the large fuel bed the wind event created. The PDI indicates that some of the northeastern Minnesota and northeastern Michigan continues to be in a moderate drought. Long-range climate forecasts call for below normal temperatures in the central Plains of the United States.
SOUTHERN – Potential: Normal to above normal. Temperatures have been normal and precipitation has been normal to below normal. Live fuel moisture is being measured from 70 to 110% in Alabama and Texas and 130 to 160% in the rest of the area. 1000 hour dead fuel moisture is at 16 to 30%. Periodic rain showers have brought much needed drought relief and have mitigated fire danger in much of the area. The Palmer Drought Index shows large portions of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida and all of Alabama to be in drought conditions. The long-range outlook is calling for normal temperatures and precipitation for most of the area.
Temperatures and Precipitation reflect conditions over the past four to six weeks. The long-range forecast is for the next 30 days. Above and below normal is indicated above in the narrative, areas not mentioned fall in the climatological category which means there are equal chances of being below normal (33.3%), normal (33.3%) or above normal (33.3%)

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Map describing the wildland fire potential, 10 August – 7 September 2000
(Source: NIFC)

National Weather Service
Long-range, 30-day weather forecasts are predicting above-normal temperatures for the southern tier of states from southern California to Florida and throughout the Midwest (see 30 and 90-day forecast maps).

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30 and 90-day temperature and precipitation forecast maps (September and September to November 2000)
(Source: National Weather Service)

Remarks on Prescribed Burning
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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