The official blog of the Joint Fire Science Program

The official blog of, the Interagency Joint Fire Science Program.

November 29, 2012

LANDFIRE: How can I use it?

In our last post we tried to answer the question: “Is LANDFIRE for me?” Well, there is only one way to find out--inspect the data to determine if it has the qualities you need to meet your objectives. You don’t have to have a PhD in vegetation modeling or be a GIS guru to review LANDFIRE data. The LANDFIRE team has support materials and support staff to help you.

Remember that LANDFIRE datasets were developed for national and regional level strategic planning and reporting, but because of their comprehensive and complete nature there is a demand for them for finer scale applications. The applicability of LANDFIRE data varies by location and specific application so users are encouraged to carefully review the datasets to determine their suitability on a project-by-project basis.

A team of ecologists reviews LANDFIRE data in the field.
Reviewing datasets is not something many of us are trained to do and yet it is a critical step to ensure that you use data appropriately, and end up with a final product that meets your needs. To evaluate a dataset you need time to explore and consider its attributes, and maybe a little help from your friends and colleagues. For example, if your background is in fuels planning, you might want to have your local ecologist available when reviewing the vegetation maps; if you are an ecologist, you may need your fuels planner to better understand the fire behavior fuel model layers. 

LANDFIRE developed three user guides to help users review and modify its vegetation dynamics models and its suite of geo-spatial layers:

The above guides offer to-the-point advice and easy-to-follow checklists to help users through the process. The guides are complimented by a set of step-by-step videos and tutorials that explain how to perform common data modifications such as:

·      Making a New Raster

These materials build on existing LANDFIRE-related courses.

fire ecologist

The Nature Conservancy


October 27, 2012

LANDFIRE: Is it for me?

Maybe. If you are engaged in research or fire and land management activities that require vegetation, fuel or fire regime information, LANDFIRE may be for you.

LANDFIRE is an ongoing national program that is producing continuous vegetation-and fire- related spatial data and ecological models for the entire United States. That’s wall-to-wall data for all 50 states, served for free on the LANDFIRE Data Distribution site and through the LANDFIRE Data Access Tool.

If you already have high-quality, up-to-date spatial data and ecological models for all the variables you want across your area of interest, LANDFIRE is probably not for you. Most folks are not so lucky, finding that they have no data, old data, are missing some variables, or need to fill data gaps (e.g. on private lands). If the latter describes you, read on.

LANDFIRE National Fire Regime Groups / Cartographer: Sarah Hagen

LANDFIRE has proven useful for a variety of fire management and natural resource management activities including:

Regional and National Level Wildland Fire 
Planning and Prioritization
LANDFIRE fuel and vegetation layers are used to support Fire Program Analysis (FPA), Hazardous Fuels Prioritization and Allocation System (HFPAS) and the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.

Incident Management
LANDFIRE’s fuel products include all the geospatial layers required to run tools such as FlamMap, FARSITE and FSPro. These data have provided decision support information to fire managers working on wildfire incidents around the country. For example:

Fuel Planning and Prioritization
The Signal Peak Project, Upper Mimbres Watershed Landscape Assessment and Spokane Agency Multi-Year Fuels Planning Project each used LANDFIRE fuels data to model fire behavior in support of fuel planning and prioritization efforts.

Community Wildfire Protection Planning
The Cowychee Mountain CWPP and the Upper Fraser Valley CWPP plans both used LANDFIRE fuel data to model potential fire behavior in their planning area.

LANDFIRE products were developed to support national and regional level analyses, but may also be useful at local scales. In the end there is only one way to find out if LANDFIRE will work for you, and that is to inspect the data yourself. This doesn’t have to be a daunting task-- our next post will tell you how!

fire ecologist
The Nature Conservancy
Bend, Oregon

September 25, 2012

When New Fire Meets Old Fire

When New Fire Meets Old Fire - 

Thoughts on reburns, plus our recent round-up of science on the subject

My family drove over to the Tetons and Yellowstone for a raft trip on the Snake River and some camping recently.  Smoke filled the skies from Boise to Wyoming.  It looked much like the smog in the Los Angeles Basin of the 1970’s. On our final day at Teton National Park you could not see the mountains, but you could look directly at the red morning sun.
Yellowstone Reborn
It was flashback time for me as I recalled working the 1988 Fan Fire in the northwest corner of Yellowstone.  Every afternoon the wind came up strong out of the west and the daily crown fire ensued, especially on the North Fork Fire, near West Yellowstone.  

Almost a quarter of a century later, we traveled the width of Yellowstone witnessing both the extent of the 1988 conflagration and the renewal of the current forest. By car, the journey across Yellowstone is some 65 miles and can take a couple of hours to traverse. By fire, in 1988, that journey took from July into early September when rain and snow brought the flames back to the ground - although they burned into November awaiting winter’s white blanket.  

While we drove through the park, I wondered what would happen if today’s fires collided with previous conflagrations such as Yellowstone?  Do the old fires alter the direction, intensity, or severity of today’s blazes?Would the older fires re-burn with new found vigor or be constrained by past fire history?

As fires continue to burn across the West this fall, many are overlapping terrain that burned previously via wildland fire, prescribed fire, or both -  in the recent or distant past. This week we bring you some science to shine a bit of light on the complexities that determine what happens when fire meets fire.

Characterizing Fire-on-Fire Interactions in Three Large Wilderness Areas by authors Casey C. Teske, Carl A. Seielstad, and LLoyd P. Queen.

Interactions Among Wildland Fires in a Long-established Sierra Nevada Natural Fire Area, by authors  B.M. Collins, J.D. Miller, A.E. Thode, M. Kelly, J.W. van Wagtendonk, and S.L. Stephens.

Factors Associated with Crown Damage Following Recurring Mixed-severity Wildfires and Post-fire Management in Southwestern Oregon, by authors J.R Thompson and B.A. Spies.
Reburns in the news in Idaho  where Elizabeth Reinhardt, U.S Forest Service assistant director for fire ecology and fuels, talks about how Old Burns Slow New Fires Across Idaho. 

Enjoy the information. Please contribute your experience, impressions, and links to more reburn science!

Keep smilin’,

Tim Swedberg
Joint Fire Science Program
Director of Communications

May 17, 2012

The Jury is Still Out

In the Journal Ecology (93(4), 2012, pp. 939-950) are three commentaries concerning the Simard paper: Do mountain pine beetle outbreaks change the probability of active crown fire in lodgepole pine forests?

The first comment is by Christopher J. Moran and Mark A. Cochrane both of South Dakota State University.

The second comment is by W. Matt Jolly, Russell Parsons, J. Morgan Varner, Bret W. Butler, Kevin C. Ryan,and Corey L. Gucker (all associated with the Rocky Mountain Research Station except J. Morgan Varner who is at Humboldt State University).

The third is a response to the comments by the authors of the original paper - Martin Simard, William H. Romme, Jacob M. Griffin, and Monica G. Turner.

These comments raise good points and are a healthy debate about the science findings.

As I have previously stated, the science is not definitive on these questions and more work is needed to reduce uncertainty.

We will continue to post new information as it becomes available.

Keep Smilin'
Tim Swedberg
JFSP Communication Director

April 26, 2012

In Search of Answers

I hope you’ll read our recent Fire Science Digest on Bark Beetles.  Our intent with this publication was to present the differing views and uncertainty about fire management in beetle-killed forests. It’s not the final and definitive word on the subject by a long shot. 

We'll continue to make research investments in the complex relationships surrounding fire management in beetle-killed forests.  Our promise is to keep you supplied with the latest research on this and many other topics as new information becomes available.  While we're at it we'd like to point you to a few more resources and science perspectives:

Colorado's Forests and the Pine Beetle Epidemic

Professor Jeff Mitton and researchers from the University of Colorado explain the connection between the unprecedented mountain pine beetles epidemic and climate change in Colorado.

Part of the series "Climate and Colorado's Future," produced by the Office of University Outreach at the University of Colorado Boulder, Sovereign Pictures, and Landlocked Films. 

And another batch of recent publications.... 

Jenkins, MJ, Page, WG, Hebertson, EG, Alexander, ME. 2012. Forest Ecology and Management. 275:23-34. (prepress version) 

Powell,EN, Townsend, PA, Raffa, KF. 2012.  Ecological Monographs, 82(1):69-84

Simard, M, Romme, WH, Griffin, JM, Turner, MG. 2011. Ecological Monographs, 81(1):3-24

Let us know what you think of this offering by leaving your comment or send an email or give me a call. 

Keep smilin'

Tim Swedberg

Office: (208) 387 - 5865
Twitter: @FirescienceGov

April 13, 2012

Why The Black Covers?

Fire History and Climate Change

When you see a Black Series publication from Firescience.Gov, you can be assured that we've assembled the most current fire science information on any given topic or issue.

Today, we offer managers the Fire History and Climate Change Synthesis. It should be on every fire or resource manager's bookshelf, or iPad, or hard drive. Our thanks to William T. Sommers, Stanley G. Coloff, and  Susan G. Conard, for writing this important publication. This work is the result of JFSP Project 09-2-01-09.
Cover - Synthesis of Knowledge: Fire History and Climate Change

You can download the publication by individual chapter, or you can request a free CD.

Let us know what you think of this offering by leaving your comment below. 

Keep smilin'


Tim Swedberg
Communication Director
Joint Fire Science Program

Office: (208) 387 - 5865
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February 10, 2012

Synthesizing Knowledge and Science for Mixed Conifer Forests

A Guest Post by Dr. Zander Evans

JFSP recently released the latest in its series of fuel treatment syntheses that covers the mixed conifer forests of California, Central and Southern Rockies, and the Southwest. The southern mixed conifer fuel treatment syntheses uses nearly 380 scientific articles, agency reports, and other references to answer questions about historic conditions, fire regimes, the impact of altered fire regimes, fuels treatment effectiveness, and treatment impacts. A central goal for the guide is to combine existing peer-reviewed literature and information gathered from dozens of interviews with managers.

The synthesis highlights the importance of heterogeneity in mixed conifer forests. Pre-settlement fires in mixed conifer forests burned on intervals that averaged between eight and 25 years for the Sierra Nevada, Southern Rockies, and Southwestern mixed conifer. Low-severity fires were more frequent in some mixed conifer forests; but, in general, mixed conifer forests have historically tended to be heterogeneous mixtures in which species composition, forest structure, and fuel loads change over short distances. Since the late 1800s, logging, fire suppression, road building, and livestock grazing have reduced the frequency of fire and increased tree densities-resulting in more homogeneous forests.

Currently, many fuel treatments seek to restore heterogeneity, i.e., the mosaic of openings and stands of varying densities across the landscape. Rather than just removing trees to create evenly spaced crowns, managers are experimenting with creating gaps and openings to change fire behavior. Innovative managers are creating more landscape heterogeneity by implementing prescribed burns across large mixed conifer forests, such as early season prescriptions using aerial ignition to burn upslope where remaining snow can control the fire. Of course fuel treatments are also designed to reduced wildfire hazard and in most mixed conifer forests, thinning that treats both the canopy and understory (crown and low thinnings) combined with prescribed fire is the most effective way to do that. 

Stephens Lab | University of California Berkeley
However, land management objectives or external constraints can make other tools, such as mastication or prescribed fire alone, more appropriate. Treatments must be maintained for their fuel reduction effect to be sustained, and no single treatment will reverse a long history of fire exclusion. The synthesis also discusses numerous complications and barriers to implementing fuels treatments in mixed conifer forests such as smoke management, wildlife habitat protections and retirement of experts, that can make these treatments more complicated, though not impossible.

We hope you find this guide useful, and look forward to your feedback.

Zander Evans is Research Director for He can be reached at, by phone at 505-983-8992, ext.36, and via Twitter @forestguild

February 2, 2012

New Ponderosa Fuels Treatment Guide

Planning and implementing fuels treatments in ponderosa pine forests, from start to finish, is no easy task. To give managers a hand, we’ve summarized information about historical land use, fire regimes, common fuels treatment objectives, techniques, impacts and mitigation for ponderosa pine across three regions across western North America, in - A Comprehensive Guide to Fuels Treatment Practices for Ponderosa Pine in the Black Hills, Colorado Front Range and Southwest (RMRS-GTR-198).

Black areas represent the areas of focus for this guide.
Gray areas represent the range of ponderosa pine.
Fire and fuels managers face similar issues across these regions along with significant differences, making one-size-fits-all solutions inappropriate. Varying current and historical land use practices; along with a broad range of historical mean fire intervals, require slightly different approaches to fuels treatments.

Additionally, many of the lessons learned across these regions can’t be gleaned from peer-reviewed literature or textbooks. Questions like – How do you overcome agency or public resistance to prescribed fire? How do you minimize the effects of smoke on communities? – have multi-faceted answers. Answers that can only come from deep experience in fire and fuels management. 

That’s why we interviewed experienced fire and fuels managers across these regions. We know it’s critical to include their stories and knowledge about what it takes to be successful. We’ve combined their experience with the pertinent information found in published literature to bring you comprehensive management principles that typically lead to effective fuels treatments, and included case studies highlighting successful implementation.

To top it off we offer this video companion to the guide.

So avail yourself of this new resource by clicking here. Be sure to share it among your peers, and let us know what your think in the comment section below.

Molly E. Hunter
Assistant Research Professor
School of Forestry
Northern Arizona University
P.O. Box 15018
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5018

January 24, 2012

Trapped in the Here, the Now and the Future?

The Classic Firefinder / Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Having fire history information for your area through fire occurrence maps, tree ring studies, and deep sediment drilling is something almost everyone appreciates.  But when it comes to wildland fire research and management history, are we less than enthusiastic about the past?  Do we discount “old” information?  Are we trapped in the here and now, and hyperfocused on the future? Below are some classic resources for your perusal. Expand your perspective with this "old" information while keeping in mind that the science of wildland fire is still young!

In 1954, George Byram from the USFS Southeastern Research Station wrote a paper titled Atmospheric Conditions Related to Blowup Fires.  He explains the wind patterns on fires such as Mann Gulch and Rattlesnake.
Also from the Southeast is a 1973 paper by Wade and Ward, An Analysis of the Air Force Bomb Range Fire. The 1983 paper about horizontal vortices and The Mack Lake Fire in Michigan by Simard,is also a great read. And don't forget the Haines Index which is still in use today.
We’d also like to draw your attention to the Summer 2003 issue of Fire Management Today - Wildland Fire Behavior Case Studies and Analyses: Part 1. You'll find great information cover to cover.

Wildland Firefighter training circa 1939 in the Umatilla National Forest / Courtesy USDA Forest Service

And I would be remiss if I did not mention another Clive Countryman (1974) publication - Can Southern California Wildland Conflagrations be Stopped?  Rule of thumb from my younger days: Southern California chaparral burns every 30 years. Is creation of an age mosaic in chaparral the way to prevent fires?  What do you think?  Is the idea still valid? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below. 

Keep Smilin’,
Tim Swedberg
Joint Fire Science Program

January 5, 2012

37 Year Journey for Safety

My first permanent job with the Forest Service was as a crew member on the Palomar Hotshots on the Cleveland National Forest in 1975.  We learned through the telling of stories by our foremen and superintendents with a large dose of practical experience.   I hope you will take a few moments to allow me to tell a story that means a lot to me and I hope to you as well.

The Cleveland had its share of fatalities starting with the Inaja Fire that resulted in the 10 Standard Firefighting orders.  My engine foreman Red Wilson survived the Decker Fire on the Ortega Highway of the Trabuco District.  The Loop Fire tragedy on the Angeles changed how we think about downhill line construction.  

From the 1970’s fires in southern California, research developed Firescope which became the Incident Command System first deployed on the Pacoima Fire. In 1975, Clive Countryman wrote a paper called “The Nature of Heat”(pdf). Although I went to school at Humboldt State University, there were no classes in wildland fire science.  This stuff was new!  The Nature of Heat was written in understandable language with numerous illustrations.  Just the kind of publication a Hotshot crew could use. 

In 1978, Carl C. Wilson and James C. Sorenson wrote a pamphlet titled “Some Common Denominators of Fire Behavior on Tragedy and Near-Miss Forest Fires (pdf)”.  This work forever changed the discussions about wildland firefighter safety.  Dick Rothermel’s Spread Model, Behave and the Ti59 soon followed and we could model fires in the field.  Paul Gleason repackaged how we think about fire safety with LCES – Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes and Safety Zones.  And Brett Butler has helped us understand how big a safety zone really needs to be and that rock pile I used so many times may not have been really safe.

In spite of these and many other pieces of research, fire fatalities continue.  An often heard phrase in these near-miss and fatal fires is, “the fire behavior was unexpected” or “it blew up.”  I’m pleased to announce new research insight for wildland firefighters about Extreme Fire Behavior with the JFSP sponsored publication of Synthesis of Knowledge of Extreme Fire Behavior: Volume 1 for Fire Managers (pdf).  

An even more detailed second volume will be published soon. I ask that all wildland firefighters download the document.  Spend time this winter learning about this subject that is central to everything we do. The Fire Behavior Committee will make changes in fire training based on this information and I urge due speed.  

Most importantly tell your own stories with your crews, unit, or post your thoughts here on  All this month we will post the “classics” about fire behavior on our website and I hope you find them useful.  

Experience may be the best teacher, but it helps a lot to have the wisdom of science on your side too.  

Be Safe,

Tim Swedberg
Communications Director
Joint Fire Science Program

January 4, 2012

On Fire: New Joint Fire Science Program Blog

Palomar Hotshots during the Gamboa Fire in the Los Padres National Forest 1980

My name is Tim Swedberg and I'm the Communications Director for the Joint Fire Science Program. I'm the big guy in the back row on the right.

We've been busy working behind the scenes at JFSP to improve the way we communicate with the wildland fire community, and to give you easier ways to connect to us. After fifteen months of researching how we can best serve you in the 21st century, I'm proud to announce the result of our efforts: 

You'll find a fresh, new look, a new logo, easier navigation and search functions, and links to all the new channels for staying up to date with the latest science findings and wildland fire management tools.

Our intent is to engage you in conversations about wildland fire science and management. If you can’t find what you're looking for, just ask and we will help as best we can.  Need local experts?  Check out our Regional Consortia in your neck of the woods.

Don’t hesitate to tell us how to improve or what you like. Let us know by commenting on and sharing this new blog. You can also subscribe to our Enews, and join the ever-expanding wildland fire conversation that’s taking place via social media right now. Follow us on Twitter, or join us on Facebook to take advantage of important information published daily.  Don't miss a word! 

Keep Smilin',
Tim Swedberg
Communications Director