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Goal: Apply Knowledge Globally The Prescribed Fire Science Consortium: Research Solutions for Fire We Use

Two researchers operating equipment in a forest

Forest Service researchers Joel Stewart (left) and Joseph O’Brien (right) deploy an infrared imager. The deployment was part of a Prescribed Fire Science Consortium experiment. Photo by Tall Timbers Research Station.


Most wildland fire research focuses on either wildfires or post-fire ecological impacts from prescribed fire. The Prescribed Fire Science Consortium was formed to address the lack of research on the mechanisms driving fire behavior and fire effects in prescribed fires. The Consortium aims to facilitate collaborative research on building a mechanistic understanding of fire through annual burn experiments.


Prescribed fire treats 12 million acres annually, most of which occurs in the Southern Region. This is more area than the total from the worst year of wildfire, however most research funds are focused on wildfires. Wildfire research tends to focus on firefighter safety, free burning headfires, rates of spread, and landscape fire effects. Research aimed at prescribed fire largely focuses on post-fire ecological responses with minimal information about the fires that produced these effects. These trends have led to a poor mechanistic understanding of managed fire and a lack of tools useful for prescribed fire managers. These issues motivated O’Brien, Kevin Hiers of Tall Timbers Research Station, Morgan Varner (PNW), Bret Butler (RMRS), and Nick Skowronski (NRS) to form the Prescribed Fire Science Consortium. The Consortium aims to advance collaborative research on topics critical to understanding the effectiveness and safety of fire use. Recognizing that mechanistic connections among fuels, weather, fire behavior, and ecological outcomes are critical for the effective use of fire in a changing environment, the Consortium aims to improve prescription development, prescribed burn smoke transport predictions, and understanding the physics that produce fire effects. The Consortium is organized around an annual burn event with managers, currently hosted at Tall Timbers Research Station and facilitated by the Southern Fire Exchange. The first series of burns was held at Tall Timbers. The team instrumented six separate burns in four days, a test of the equipment and the logistical skills of both the scientists and the fire managers. Measurements included LiDAR, Ceilometers, infrared thermal imagers, multiband infrared radiometers, four unmanned aerial systems, 3D sonic anemometers, and stereo imagers. The exercise was intended to facilitate comparisons across instrument platforms. Examples included the validation of remotely-sensed fire intensity measurements and building a 3D library of fuel types with information on their combustion characteristics for use with next-generation fire behavior models. The overarching goals were to build collaborative relationships among leading fire scientists and share techniques and a comprehensive dataset of smoke, fire behavior, fuels, and fire effects.

Principal Investigator
Joseph O’Brien, Research Ecologist
4156 - Center for Forest Disturbance Science
Strategic Program Area
Fire and Fuels