The University of Arizona

Nation's Fire Managers, Climate Experts Meet To Plan For Next Fire Season

February 12, 2001

From: Shoshana Mayden
Institute for the Study of Planet Earth

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Fire management officials from key regions around the country and climate experts will meet at the University of Arizona Wednesday through Friday, Feb. 14 - 16, to discuss last year's devastating wildfire season and plan for this season's potential fire danger.

Climate and fire forecasts will be presented at the conference Wednesday morning. The workshop, "Fire & Climate, 2001," will be held at the Four Points by Sheraton Tucson University Plaza, 1900 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson.

Officials are particularly concerned about potential fire hazards in the northwestern United States. Dry conditions have left Northern California with 46 percent of its long-term average snowpack, and predictions for the Pacific Northwest region call for lower than average streamflow, according to Tim Brown, director of the Program for Climate, Ecosystem, and Fire Applications (CEFA) at Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.

If the dry weather continues into the spring, it may worsen California's power shortage, Brown said. Reduced streamflows could decrease the availability of hydroelectric power, while the smoke produced by large wildfires could force the shutdown of nearby powerlines.

Dry conditions are also occurring across much of Montana and Idaho, including areas heavily burned during last year's wildfire season. "If we were to use just dry winter conditions alone as a predictor, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana would be at increased risk of fire," Brown said.

Workshop participants will analyze the 2000 fire season and discuss improvements for this year's fire management, said Barbara Morehouse of the UA Institute for the Study of Planet Earth (ISPE). She is program manager for the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) project.

Participants at last February's fire and climate workshop predicted extreme fire danger for the Southwest's 2000 wildfire season. The predictions were based on La Niça conditions -- a climatic pattern that is correlated with dry and warm weather in the Southwest, as well as with increased wildfires-- and on fire history data for the past 300 years.

"The experience of the blazing summer of 2000 should strengthen the resolve of the climate and fire management communities to work toward a more integrated understanding of the role of climate in wildfire regimes," said Jonathan Overpeck, director of ISPE.

Morehouse, along with Overpeck, Thomas Swetnam, and other UA researchers, recently received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a geographic information system (GIS) model that fire managers and others will be able to use in strategic planning for long-term fire management.

"The study represents a very innovative effort to integrate fire hazard data, climate factors, human factors, and policy considerations into a single system, and to involve key users in the actual design of the system," Morehouse said. An overview of the project will be presented at the workshop on Friday.

Key individuals from throughout the western and southeastern United States, as well as Alaska, are expected to attend this year's conference. CLIMAS, ISPE, the UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and CEFA are sponsoring the workshop, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Joint Fire Science Program of the U.S. Department of the Interior and USDA Forest Service.

Further details including the workshop agenda, speaker list, and background material are available at http://www.ispe.arizona.edu/climas/fire/workshops/2001.html

Additional contacts during the workshop:
Bob Clark, Program Manager, Joint Fire Science Program, National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, ID, 208-387-5349, Bob_Clark@nifc.blm.gov

Susan Conard, National Program Leader for Fire Ecology Research, USDA Forest Service, Washington DC, 202-205-1561, sconard@fs.fed.us

Stan Coloff, Deputy Chief Biologist, Global Change Research Program, U.S.Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, National Center, Reston, VA, 703-648-4083, stan_coloff@usgs.gov

Paul Werth, Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, Portland, OR, 503-808-2737, pwerth@fs.fed.us