Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »
Fighting fire with maps, weather data and fire behavior analysis
June 26th, 2013 by Susan Smith
The Jaroso Fire in the Pecos Wilderness of New Mexico burned 3,000 acres in the past 24 hours. This fire has been burning since June 10th. Although so far it has burned only just over 9,000 acres and so far there are no structures or power lines in jeopardy yet, it is uncontained. It will remain uncontained until conditions change, because it is too dangerous to send ground crews in.
The Jaroso Fire at 11,000 feet elevation is burning in the rugged, steep, deep canyons of the Pecos Wilderness. It is burning in mixed-conifer, heavy dead and down, woody material with pockets of bug-killed trees, and has burnt through the 1300-acres of blowdown trees from a windstorm in 2007. The fire is seven miles from the nearest trailhead and there are no roads.
Almost all of the firefighting has taken place from the air but the few firefighters who have been rappelled in have had to be pulled out less than two hours later because of the altitude and the ruggedness of the terrain.
Behind the scenes, fire behavior analysts Kim Soper and Diane Rau try to predict what the Jaroso Fire will do next. They are responsible for modeling and mapping the short- and long-term predictions for the blaze. The data they input includes historical weather, fuel types, terrain, weather forecasts and flying over burn areas to predict where the fire might move next.
The data is created from overnight infrared flights that show hot spots and possible spots that might ignite. The maps we all see on Inciweb each day keep those near the fire and who care about it informed.
The analysts rely on hourly weather forecasts and actions of the fire added to their models which include the effects of water drops from the aircraft and helicopters. The model can forecast fire behavior for six days. Using another model, the analysts can build scenarios of fire behavior for 7 to 21 days. For the Jaroso fire they used 2,000 scenarios and where they overlap, the incidence of fire increases. This type of scenario building helps fire manager gauge how the fire can spread. It is based on historical weather data as well as other forecasting.
The citizens in surrounding communities – Santa Fe, Pecos, Espanola, Chimayo, watch the progress of this fire with their hearts sinking. This beautiful wilderness has given great pleasure to people for countless years. I sit here remembering hikes, rides on my horse, on the mountain trails that the fire now grows near. Every year, there are many fires in the Southwest, and in each of the nearby communities, citizens wait under clouds of smoke for news that the fires are in some way contained and that their favorite places will still be there when the smoke clears.
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