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Strategy on large wildland fires is a complex mix of tradeoffs made during periods of high uncertainty, driven by conflicting interests and valuations by multiple parties. Despite this, communicating these strategies is usually with four options available within the ICS-209 reporting system. This has led to significant public and political backlash when certain fires, initially perceived to be low risk, eventually become the opposite and damage towns and infrastructure. One example was the 2021 Tamarack Fire on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in California, USA. This fire was initially communicated as being monitored due to firefighter hazards, then during strong winds the fire moved into the town of Markleeville, California and later into Nevada. While the reported strategy was changed to full suppression, it resulted in significant public and political outcry. Through linking multiple data sources, we identified 32 USFS lightning-caused wildfires between 2009-2020 that had similar characteristics to the Tamarack Fire. Importantly, only six of these had initial strategies driven by the pursuit of land management desired future conditions (resource objectives). The remaining 26 fires were not immediately suppressed because of severe firefighter hazards. Our results support previous research indicating that human caused wildfires are the primary driver of structure destruction from wildfire. Our results also demonstrate that Tamarack style fires are very rare, but that communication of wildfire strategy may be constrained by using the ICS-209 categories as a replacement for the decision making factors that feed into any individual wildfire.

This event is part of a series:

Fire Lab Seminar Series

The Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory has been hosting an annual seminar series since 1998. Hour-long seminars are presented by Fire Lab employees and other researchers from throughout the world. Seminars cover current research and management about the natural world from a broad range of disciplines, but most seminars usually have a wildland fire theme. The Fire Lab Seminar Series provides a platform for researchers and managers to present their work in an environment that encourages critical thought, the free exchange of ideas, and knowledge discovery. For more information, visit the Fire Lab Seminar Series page.

Event Details

Apr 18 2024, 11am - 12pm
Virtual Event
Presenter(s): Bradley Pietruszka

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