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View Full Version : Where's new technology to fight wildfires?


LadyMadonna
07-07-2012, 01:46 PM
The fires happening in Colorado (and other states) are horrifying. The lives lost, homes destroyed, residents displaced and devastation to the land is incredible. I can't even bring myself to think about the fate of the wild animals and birds.

I find it surprising that no one has come up with a better way to contain these fires, before they get so large and out of control. Does anyone know if there is much research in this area? And do you think some states wait too long to bring in extra manpower when faced with a new wildfire?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Keep safe,

LadyMadonna

Telemark
07-07-2012, 02:41 PM
Remove the fuel.

Really, that's the main tool we have against forest fires. Keeping fuel sources (brush, cedar shingles) away from things you want to protect, and burning out the existing fuel sources by periodically allowing smaller fires to burn are the only ways to ensure against devastating fires.

But people like shrubbery and they think cedar shingles look great. They resist keeping houses inside areas cleared of scrub and don't do maintenance. Steadily clearing forest zones or doing prescribed burns is costly and seems a waste of money during wet years.

Esox Lucius
07-07-2012, 09:57 PM
Most fires are successfully kept under control. They don't normally become big fires unless an unexpected change in conditions catches firefighters by surprise. Last summer, one third of the small city of Slave Lake, Alberta, was burned to the ground by a fire that started innocuously enough 10 miles from the city. It was just a small fire that was initially under control until unusually high winds came up and drove it towards the city so fast that there was barely enough time to evacuate people from their homes, let alone fight the fire.

In the case of the Colorado fire, it looks like there was a perfect storm of conditions that supported a small fire growing quickly into a large fire before firefighters could get there to do anything about it.

Amblydoper
07-07-2012, 11:18 PM
In the case of the Colorado fire, it looks like there was a perfect storm of conditions that supported a small fire growing quickly into a large fire before firefighters could get there to do anything about it.

Actually, the fire fighters were there. It all plays out like an old war story. They tried to make a stand at a ranch between the city and the fire, and they lost that ground. They had to fall back. The Colorado Fires weren't a case of wild fires catching the firefighters off guard, as many are. They knew this would happen, and they were as ready as they could be. That just wasn't enough.

---

In my eyes, forrest fires are a good thing. They bring about a refresh of the cycle of a forrest. We don't need new technology to fight the fires, we just need to draw hard lines at population centers to keep the fires away from people and property. Many of those people in Colorado Springs that lost their homes lived amongst pine trees, and although pretty, they represent a real hazard that they must accept.

And I hope the concern for the fuzzy animals was tongue in cheek. The animals will be OK.

Esox Lucius
07-08-2012, 08:21 AM
Actually, the fire fighters were there. It all plays out like an old war story. They tried to make a stand at a ranch between the city and the fire, and they lost that ground. They had to fall back. The Colorado Fires weren't a case of wild fires catching the firefighters off guard, as many are. They knew this would happen, and they were as ready as they could be. That just wasn't enough.

When I looked up the cause, I believed the first source I read.:( In my pathetic attempt at a defence, it was at least a perfect storm of conditions: an overabundance of dry deadwood thanks to the pine beetle and fire suppression in the past, record-high temperatures and high winds.

In my eyes, forrest fires are a good thing. They bring about a refresh of the cycle of a forrest. We don't need new technology to fight the fires, we just need to draw hard lines at population centers to keep the fires away from people and property. Many of those people in Colorado Springs that lost their homes lived amongst pine trees, and although pretty, they represent a real hazard that they must accept.

I think fire suppression is generally seen as a bad idea now. Even in national parks up here in Canada, they tend to let forest fires run their course now unless they approach inhabited areas.

Clearing deadwood around properties is a good idea for individual owners, and doesn't have to be just about keeping forest fire fuel to a minimum. A friend of mine has a cabin surrounded by bush, and every fall we make a few huge piles of deadwood and go back in the winter with a bunch of friends to burn them. We call them drinkin' fires for reasons that shoud be obvious.:)

kanicbird
07-08-2012, 08:40 AM
It is a natural cycle, though man has helped in some cases. When nature wants to burn an area she is going to and stopping her would be akin to stopping a rainstorm, man does not yet have that power.

But there are some inroads in wildland fire control. Though most of the tools involve making a fire break, there are some packs now that contain the ability to make a type of firefighting foam that unlike water alone, the foam stays where you spray it, doesn't run off, and vastly multiplies the effectiveness over water spray packs.

LadyMadonna
07-08-2012, 05:13 PM
Apparently some believe that wildfires are a good thing. I don't agree with that line of thinking. Especially when fire decimates over 244,000 acres in one state. We need these forests! Sure, the brush will grow back quickly, but it will take decades for those woods to become majestic once again. I know many times these fires are caused by Mother Nature, but she also causes floods, earthquakes and tornadoes. Sometimes we must fight Mother Nature with everything we've got. And 'what we've got' is not enough when it comes to combating wildfires. We need innovation to win these battles! Firefighters should NOT be caught by surprise. Maybe "small" wildfires need to be handled with more manpower from the onset.

And no, my comment about the wild birds and animals was not made tongue-in-cheek. Sure, some outrun the fire, but many do not escape and die a horrendous death. Not to mention the domesticated animals, such as horses and cattle, that cannot be evacuated on short notice.

My heart goes out to the residents of Colorado. I sincerely hope the firefighters can win this battle and stay safe while doing it

Flyer
07-08-2012, 06:09 PM
Some plants actually require fire in order to propagate the next generation.

http://www.zephyrus.co.uk/firedispersal.html

http://www.werc.usgs.gov/OLDsitedata/seki/pdfs/regeneration.pdf

Rubixcube
07-08-2012, 06:26 PM
Apparently some believe that wildfires are a good thing. I don't agree with that line of thinking. Especially when fire decimates over 244,000 acres in one state. We need these forests! Sure, the brush will grow back quickly, but it will take decades for those woods to become majestic once again. I know many times these fires are caused by Mother Nature, but she also causes floods, earthquakes and tornadoes. Sometimes we must fight Mother Nature with everything we've got. And 'what we've got' is not enough when it comes to combating wildfires. We need innovation to win these battles! Firefighters should NOT be caught by surprise. Maybe "small" wildfires need to be handled with more manpower from the onset.

And no, my comment about the wild birds and animals was not made tongue-in-cheek. Sure, some outrun the fire, but many do not escape and die a horrendous death. Not to mention the domesticated animals, such as horses and cattle, that cannot be evacuated on short notice.

My heart goes out to the residents of Colorado. I sincerely hope the firefighters can win this battle and stay safe while doing it
People aren't saying that this fire is good, in fact they're saying very much the opposite. Part of the cause of this fire is supposed to have been fire prevention. Wildfires aren't good but by letting the small ones run their course it prevents a buildup of fuel that causes fires on this scale. The only other real way to prevent fires is to manually remove all of the fuel, and doing that for an entire forest is pretty much impossible, especially in hot and dry conditions.

Fubaya
07-08-2012, 07:07 PM
It may not be the boots-on-the-ground technology the OP wants, but wildfires are a part of Meteorology and the information available has grown a lot in recent years. Fire prediction is a part of some weather forecast computer models which are ran several times a day and made available on the web, and since 1998 the Storm Prediction Center has been issuing fire weather outlooks (http://www.spc.noaa.gov/products/fire_wx/fwdy1.html) to warn where the potential for wildfire may be high. The SPC also incorporates fire weather into their excellent analysis maps (http://www.spc.noaa.gov/exper/firecomp/) and have some stand alone fire data (http://www.spc.noaa.gov/exper/sref/) too. So there's a lot more prediction and warning information out there than there used to be.

Once a fire does break out, I'm sure they use satellite imaging and other fancy high tech things to locate the best place to fight it.

Duckster
07-08-2012, 11:38 PM
Apparently some believe that wildfires are a good thing. I don't agree with that line of thinking.

You may not agree with it but it is the way natural fires are managed. Wildland fire is a natural occurrence. Long before humans interrupted fire cycles, forests and grasslands regularly burned. We are coming to the end of a long period of stupidity where the formula -- fire = bad -- was predominant. There are also prescribed burns to reduced the probabilities of firestorms, as well as return the forest to a natural burn cycle.

The two greatest threats with wildland fire today in North America is urban interface encroaching upon wildland buffer zones and the people living/working there not do their jobs to minimize conditions that cause catastrophic fire. The other is climate change. Deny that latter all you want but the research says otherwise.

Full disclosure. I've been part of wildland fire teams for more than 30 years. The hardest part has never been on the fireline. The hardest part of fighting fire is fighting the dogma surrounding fire.

GreasyJack
07-08-2012, 11:53 PM
You may not agree with it but it is the way natural fires are managed. Wildland fire is a natural occurrence. Long before humans interrupted fire cycles, forests and grasslands regularly burned. We are coming to the end of a long period of stupidity where the formula -- fire = bad -- was predominant. There are also prescribed burns to reduced the probabilities of firestorms, as well as return the forest to a natural burn cycle.


Actually, to slightly nitpick here, the phrase "long before humans" is incorrect in much of the western US. Studies that have looked at burn intervals show ranges that are far too frequent to be explained by natural starts. What's more, forests in areas known to be inhabited or frequently traveled by Native Americans show drastically higher burn frequencies. It's quite clear that before European settlement, humans were managing the forests with managed burns, and the forest ecosystems are adapted to those conditions. The problem isn't just Euro-American land managers extinguishing natural blazes, but not setting ones of our own!

Also, to reiterate what others have said, those studies I mentioned earlier that determined burn frequency were largely done by looking at tree rings, which tells us that a tree could survive many low-intensity fires during its life, as opposed to lower frequency but higher intensity fires that are the rule with current management practices.

kanicbird
07-09-2012, 07:25 AM
Also to point out there are fire adapted trees (and I'm sure other plants), that require fire for it's life cycle. The bark is fire hardened so the tree can usually survive and aspects of reproduction require fire such as opening seed cones. These are part of the majestic trees the OP likes having and blames fire for removing.

Machine Elf
07-09-2012, 08:14 AM
I find it surprising that no one has come up with a better way to...

Why do you find it surprising? What is the source of your preconceived notions that the state of the art in wildfire technology should be more advanced than it actually is?

Apart from the satellite-based meteorology Fubaya talks about, the only other new piece of technology I'm aware of is this 747-based watertanker, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvBRWTumoZI&feature=player_detailpage#t=181s) which can lay down a strip of fire retardant 25,000 feet long, compared to a P-3's drop length of just 2080 feet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evergreen_Supertanker

Esox Lucius
07-09-2012, 01:56 PM
It's quite clear that before European settlement, humans were managing the forests with managed burns...

I'd dispute that. It's possible they accidentally started forest fires with their campfires. It's also possible they deliberately set them because the new growth that comes in the following years attracts more game, not because they were intentionally managing the forests.

phreesh
07-09-2012, 02:26 PM
I'd dispute that. It's possible they accidentally started forest fires with their campfires. It's also possible they deliberately set them because the new growth that comes in the following years attracts more game, not because they were intentionally managing the forests.

This does not compute. Maybe more of a definitional problem. If they're setting fires as you seem to allow (and this is fact. North American indians intentionally set fires) then they are managing forests. Perhaps their goal wasn't to create healthy forests, but the fires they set 'managed' forest growth, by my definition.

Setting regular fires for hundreds (thousands?) of years shaped North America's forests and they are different than the ones encountered by us today.

Machine Elf
07-09-2012, 02:30 PM
It's also possible they deliberately set them because the new growth that comes in the following years attracts more game...

How is that not managing the forest?

supery00n
07-09-2012, 03:25 PM
Why do you find it surprising? What is the source of your preconceived notions that the state of the art in wildfire technology should be more advanced than it actually is?

Apart from the satellite-based meteorology Fubaya talks about, the only other new piece of technology I'm aware of is this 747-based watertanker, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvBRWTumoZI&feature=player_detailpage#t=181s) which can lay down a strip of fire retardant 25,000 feet long, compared to a P-3's drop length of just 2080 feet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evergreen_Supertanker

Would this idea work?

Have a system of satellites that orbits continuously above one place over the United States, each over different areas, and have an infrared detector on each that spots locations with either sudden temperature changes (a fire that has just started) or sustained higher than normally encountered temperatures (a fire that has been burning) that are not associated with any man-made structure (such as a coal furnace or power plant). I think this might work because in nature, in the absence of a fire, temperatures change continuously throughout the day due to a combination of solar radiation, ground heating, latent heat transfer, and other effects; by continuously I mean that temperatures won't jump from 80F to 160F over a minute, as might happen in a fire that started during that minute. Also, since a fire that has been burning for a short while has sustained temperatures that are not encountered in nature in the absence of a fire (according to Wikipedia, even a burning cigarette on its side has a temperature of 750F, and in the middle is 1150F), human technologies and activities (such as coal plants), or atmospheric/geological events even more violent than fires (i.e. volcanoes, lightning strikes), these temperature signals can be detected and analyzed by an algorithm that is fine-tuned to eliminate false positives and true negatives, and sent to fire stations within a certain radius of the signal event, where it can be analyzed and action taken if necessary (if there really is a fire).

It helps that the intensity of radiation emitted is to the fourth power of temperature, and also that satellites, being situated so far above the horizon, can detect a large area of the Earth at once. Also, computing power is probably cheap enough to process this data not in real time, but every minute or so, possibly allowing fires to be detected within minutes of their formation even when they are far from any inhabited location (if they were close to where people lived, they would be detected by the people who lived there).

LadyMadonna
07-09-2012, 03:31 PM
Thank you all for the bounty of interesting information that was posted.

supery00n
07-09-2012, 03:36 PM
*Meant to edit my post above, but ran out of time.*

The idea above is similar to that of detecting gamma-ray bursts in space in that it surveys a large expanse of a "surface," and detects certain signals by their characteristic properties, while filtering out noise. Gamma ray bursts, although they have an enormous intrinsic brightness, are not very bright and most cannot be seen with the naked eye, but we can still detect them by setting up our instrument's detection parameter range to contain the signal that the gamma-ray burst appears as. It is interesting that these satellites which detect gamma ray bursts were originally used to detect nuclear explosions.

Similarly, we might be able to set up fire detection satellites that can do the same on Earth, although they might not be sensitive enough to detect fires, or there would be way too much noise.

I guess this is an example of an "early warning system," in its conception. Is such a system already deployed, or are fires generally detected by a person who calls the fire department? I think this would be totally sufficient for fires in areas with high population densities, but not for forest fires outside urban areas or outside a national forest, where there would be park rangers and wildlife managers who could detect them.

Duckster
07-09-2012, 03:56 PM
Apart from the satellite-based meteorology Fubaya talks about, the only other new piece of technology I'm aware of is this 747-based watertanker, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvBRWTumoZI&feature=player_detailpage#t=181s) which can lay down a strip of fire retardant 25,000 feet long, compared to a P-3's drop length of just 2080 feet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evergreen_Supertanker


The Supertanker was used in Mexico in 2011 and in Israel in 2010. It's not approved for use on federal wildland fires in the USA. It's use is political and not tactical.

phreesh
07-09-2012, 04:03 PM
The Supertanker was used in Mexico in 2011 and in Israel in 2010. It's not approved for use on federal wildland fires in the USA. It's use is political and not tactical.

That last sentence is awesome, but I don't know what it means. Could you expand?

dolphinboy
07-09-2012, 04:23 PM
Remove the fuel.

Really, that's the main tool we have against forest fires. Keeping fuel sources (brush, cedar shingles) away from things you want to protect, and burning out the existing fuel sources by periodically allowing smaller fires to burn are the only ways to ensure against devastating fires.

But people like shrubbery and they think cedar shingles look great. They resist keeping houses inside areas cleared of scrub and don't do maintenance. Steadily clearing forest zones or doing prescribed burns is costly and seems a waste of money during wet years.

What Telemark said. We recently built a house in the wildlife-urban interface in Montana and fires are a big concern. We used flame resistant cementacious siding, fire resistant asphalt shingles, and cleared a 40 foot perimeter around our house removing all trees and undergrowth. While that won't protect us if a large wildfire is started anywhere near our property, at least we did what we could.

Telemark
07-09-2012, 05:36 PM
Sometimes we must fight Mother Nature with everything we've got.

More importantly, sometimes we must let Mother Nature do her job.

RandMcnally
07-09-2012, 06:10 PM
This does not compute. Maybe more of a definitional problem. If they're setting fires as you seem to allow (and this is fact. North American indians intentionally set fires) then they are managing forests. Perhaps their goal wasn't to create healthy forests, but the fires they set 'managed' forest growth, by my definition.

Setting regular fires for hundreds (thousands?) of years shaped North America's forests and they are different than the ones encountered by us today.

Indians set fires in order to create landscapes that suited them best. The landscape that they managed looked different than what we see today and different than what the Pilgrims saw, as a good number of Indians died before even the English made landfall.

"Ecologists and archaeologists," Charles Mann says in 1491, "agree that the destruction of Native Americans also destroyed the ecosystems they managed. Throughout the eastern forest the open, park-like landscapes observed by the first Europeans quickly filled in. Because they [Europeans] did not burn the land with the same skill and frequency as its previous occupants, the forests grew thicker. Left untended, maize fields filled with weeds, then bushes and trees."

Mann, Charles "1491." (Vintage Books: New York, NY. 2006) 371.

Lemur866
07-09-2012, 06:39 PM
Right. The thick forests of the colonial era weren't virgin primeval forests. They were new forests that had grown up in abandoned farmland. In 1491 most indians in North America were farmers, not hunter-gatherers.

Anyway, back to wildfires. Forests produce dead leaves, wood, bark, and so on. Those things accumulate, and are removed by various processes. Decay is one way debris gets removed. But generally in most parts of the United States debris accumulates faster than decay removes it. And as the debris gets thicker and thicker, it provides fuel for fires. Which means the longer a place goes without a fire, the more debris it has, and the hotter and more devastating the fire will be.

There will inevitably be a fire. The more you suppress small fires, the more debris accumulates, the greater the likelihood and severity of the next fire.

The introduction of non-native species doesn't help either. California wildfires are much more intense than they used to be due to the introduction of eucalyptus, a species that sheds a tremendous amount of resinous bark, leaves and seeds, that creates intense fires. Eucalyptus can survive the intense fires, many other species cannot. This is how eucalyptus spreads itself--dump a bunch of hot-buring bark everywhere, burn out all your competitors, and then move in to the newly cleared land.

Another thing that doesn't help are the people that cover their house in cedar shakes. You might as well paint your house with gasoline.

GreasyJack
07-09-2012, 06:59 PM
Would this idea work?

Have a system of satellites that orbits continuously above one place over the United States, each over different areas, and have an infrared detector on each that spots locations with either sudden temperature changes (a fire that has just started) or sustained higher than normally encountered temperatures (a fire that has been burning) that are not associated with any man-made structure (such as a coal furnace or power plant)...

They already have airborne IR flights when there's weather they suspect will cause starts. For the most part, the trouble isn't detecting new starts, but predicting which ones are going to blow up into large fires.

Fubaya
07-09-2012, 10:02 PM
To have satellites continuously watch one spot, they have to be in geosynchronous orbit which is 22,000 miles above earth, making it difficult if not impossible to locate small fires starting up. The other option is having a bunch of satellites in orbit so that one is always over the zone you want to watch, which is expensive. An alternative is to pass over the area several times a day. The MODIS satellite does this and apparently the Forest Service does use (http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/about.php) it to detect fires. But the IR resolution is 1000m, and since it passes a few times a day, it isn't going to catch anything really small as it happens. But by the time a forest fire really erupts it should be easily detected.

Wildfires can also be detected by other meteorological satellites and smoke can be detected by weather radars which blanket the country. And then there's people, who probably report 99% of fires before any of this technology detects it.

Esox Lucius
07-09-2012, 10:47 PM
This does not compute. Maybe more of a definitional problem. If they're setting fires as you seem to allow (and this is fact. North American indians intentionally set fires) then they are managing forests. Perhaps their goal wasn't to create healthy forests, but the fires they set 'managed' forest growth, by my definition.

Setting regular fires for hundreds (thousands?) of years shaped North America's forests and they are different than the ones encountered by us today.

How is that not managing the forest?

Like phreesh said, I think it's a question of definition. "Forest management" implies intentionally maintaining their health over the long term, but Native Americans burned forests for a variety of short term reasons including destroying them for cultivation. I'd hardly describe that as management. Their practices resulted in preventing forests from becoming too old and susceptible to massive firestorms, but that happens naturally anyway, so crediting Native Americans for "managing" it seems misguided to me.

GreasyJack
07-09-2012, 11:43 PM
Like phreesh said, I think it's a question of definition. "Forest management" implies intentionally maintaining their health over the long term, but Native Americans burned forests for a variety of short term reasons including destroying them for cultivation. I'd hardly describe that as management. Their practices resulted in preventing forests from becoming too old and susceptible to massive firestorms, but that happens naturally anyway, so crediting Native Americans for "managing" it seems misguided to me.

The trouble is that words like "health" and "management" are somewhat loaded and subjective. There is no such thing as an objectively healthy forest-- it's all about what you want to get out of it. A forest that may be healthy by the standard of providing lots of timber is different from one that's healthy by the standard of providing habitat for game or living space for humans. Management simply means doing anything to further those outcomes-- even clear-cutting is a form of forest management.

I'm not as familiar with what eastern Native Americans were doing, but in the west, the quasai-nomadic peoples wanted forests that could maintain game species and were easy to travel through. Periodic burning cleared the undergrowth and renewed grasses. They weren't thinking short-term at all, since you would burn one year expecting not to reap the benefits until you passed through in later years. There is evidence in historic times that these were intentional fires, too, so these weren't just accidental fires with coincidental impacts on the ecosystem.

Duckster
07-10-2012, 12:09 AM
It's use is political and not tactical.That last sentence is awesome, but I don't know what it means. Could you expand?

A large amount of wildland fire in the USA occurs in places where the effective use of a supertanker isn't safe nor feasible. It's also very expensive to operate. On wildland fires within the USA where it has been used, the decision to use it was politically motivated by a Member of Congress leaning on fire officials. That Member all too often is more concerned with their district votes in the next election than a safe and effective fire management and control. Of the several large fires I participated in where the supertanker was considered, practicality, cost containment and suppression effectiveness ruled it out. Smaller aircraft was more effective, cheaper and safer.

A supertanker air drop is an impressive sight to watch. It makes for really good TV news, and political grandstanding. It's tactical effectiveness just isn't there most of the time.

Esox Lucius
07-10-2012, 01:12 AM
There is no such thing as an objectively healthy forest-- it's all about what you want to get out of it...

Okay, you make a good point and I generally have to agree with it. I still think there can be a difference between "management" and "exploitation", but I see now that that's immaterial to the point I wanted to make. What I really wanted to do in the context of this thread was point out that preventing forests from becoming over-fueled tinderboxes wasn't the purpose of the Natives' burning. I don't know if you were implying that or if I wrongly inferred it, but I wanted to be clear on that.

GreasyJack
07-10-2012, 01:39 AM
What I really wanted to do in the context of this thread was point out that preventing forests from becoming over-fueled tinderboxes wasn't the purpose of the Natives' burning. I don't know if you were implying that or if I wrongly inferred it, but I wanted to be clear on that.

No, reducing fuel wasn't the purpose of the native prescribed burns, but the forest ecosystems adapted to periodic fires and the sudden removal of them has caused the tinderbox problem. There are western forests that are not fire-adapted (or at least not adapted to such frequent fires), largely in areas where people didn't live and travel during prehistory. Unfortunately, people live mostly in the same places they did during prehistory, so the most fire-adapted forests tend to be closer to where people live now.

This creates a bit of a feedback loop-- we can (and increasingly do) let fires just burn out on their own in the mountains and isolated backwoods valleys since those ecosystems were never adapted to frequent fires in the first place, and so tend not to burn out of control. We can't do this around settlements, though, and those are the forests that most need to be allowed to burn periodically. The solution is probably some combination of mechanical fuel reduction (yes, including some logging), planned burns that can be made when weather conditions reduce risk of losing control and minimize the smoke hazard, and simply letting some fires burn out when practical. But we have about 100 years of catch-up to do.

drachillix
07-10-2012, 01:49 AM
I'd dispute that. It's possible they accidentally started forest fires with their campfires. It's also possible they deliberately set them because the new growth that comes in the following years attracts more game, not because they were intentionally managing the forests.

Or intentionally setting fires in strategic areas and positioning themselves along likely escape routes for game and allowing them to bring down many animals that would have been difficult to hunt down otherwise.

drachillix
07-10-2012, 02:01 AM
I find it surprising that no one has come up with a better way to contain these fires, before they get so large and out of control. Does anyone know if there is much research in this area? And do you think some states wait too long to bring in extra manpower when faced with a new wildfire?

To adress the OP, large wildand fires are not some kind of creeping along little brush fire. These are full blown wrath of God events like a minor hurricane or tsunami. We can through massive effort, slow them down and sometimes channel them, but decisively stopping one cold is right up there with ordering the tide not to come in.

http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/id/environmental_education/ee_site_photos.Par.98274.Image.-1.-1.1.gif

Wild animals do get cooked now and then, but the vast majority of them are WAY ahead of the fire.

Alessan
07-10-2012, 03:15 AM
A large amount of wildland fire in the USA occurs in places where the effective use of a supertanker isn't safe nor feasible. It's also very expensive to operate. On wildland fires within the USA where it has been used, the decision to use it was politically motivated by a Member of Congress leaning on fire officials. That Member all too often is more concerned with their district votes in the next election than a safe and effective fire management and control. Of the several large fires I participated in where the supertanker was considered, practicality, cost containment and suppression effectiveness ruled it out. Smaller aircraft was more effective, cheaper and safer.

A supertanker air drop is an impressive sight to watch. It makes for really good TV news, and political grandstanding. It's tactical effectiveness just isn't there most of the time.

I remember during the massive fire here in Israel a couple years ago, the newscasters were saying that while in total, the smaller planes the Russians had sent were a lot more effective, the U.S. supertanker was damn impressive.

Esox Lucius
07-10-2012, 11:45 PM
No, reducing fuel wasn't the purpose of the native prescribed burns, but the forest ecosystems adapted to periodic fires and the sudden removal of them has caused the tinderbox problem. There are western forests that are not fire-adapted (or at least not adapted to such frequent fires), largely in areas where people didn't live and travel during prehistory. Unfortunately, people live mostly in the same places they did during prehistory, so the most fire-adapted forests tend to be closer to where people live now.

This creates a bit of a feedback loop-- we can (and increasingly do) let fires just burn out on their own in the mountains and isolated backwoods valleys since those ecosystems were never adapted to frequent fires in the first place, and so tend not to burn out of control. We can't do this around settlements, though, and those are the forests that most need to be allowed to burn periodically. The solution is probably some combination of mechanical fuel reduction (yes, including some logging), planned burns that can be made when weather conditions reduce risk of losing control and minimize the smoke hazard, and simply letting some fires burn out when practical. But we have about 100 years of catch-up to do.

Sounds like delayed revenge by the Natives on us.:)

Add to that other factors like climate change and the pine beetle, and it sounds like these mega-fires are going to be more common now in populated areas. As much as I love mountains and forests, I'm kind of glad I haven't built my dream house near one.

(And thanks for the info.)

Or intentionally setting fires in strategic areas and positioning themselves along likely escape routes for game and allowing them to bring down many animals that would have been difficult to hunt down otherwise.

That sounds entirely plausible. Plains Indians set grass fires to drive buffalo herds in a certain direction, so the same strategy likely worked in forested areas, too.

drachillix
07-10-2012, 11:52 PM
That sounds entirely plausible. Plains Indians set grass fires to drive buffalo herds in a certain direction, so the same strategy likely worked in forested areas, too.

I had heard that in some areas of the rural south a large percentage of wildland fires are backwoods folks spooking out the game to bag several animals quickly rather than hunt them down individually. Easy way to feed the family for the winter.

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