Where there's fire

Asheville, NC--In the South, most controlled burning takes place during the first three months of the year, a time when the needs of human populations and forest ecologies can come into visible--and sometimes deadly--conflict. Forest Service researchers are testing desktop modeling programs to provide forest managers the real-time information they need to reduce the impact of smoke from prescribed burning.

Prescribed burning--the deliberate setting of fires under controlled conditions--is used to treat some 6 to 8 million acres in the South each year. About half this area is burned for forest management, the remainder for agricultural and range purposes. Southern land managers recognize prescribed burning as the most economical way to reduce the risk of wildfires and to maintain habitat for fire-dependent plant and animal species. Unfortunately, where there is fire, there is always smoke.

Prescribed burning is increasingly limited by air quality concerns in the South, where urbanization continues to grow and major highways snake through forested areas. Thick smoke, especially when mixed with late night or early morning fog, can reduce visibility to zero and create extremely treacherous driving conditions. Keeping smoke away from highways is further complicated by the highly variable nature of the weather during the burning season in the South.

Dr. Gary Achtemeier, meteorologist with the Southern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service, recently presented results from testing two modeling programs designed to simulate the movement of night smoke resulting from prescribed burning.

"Simulating smoke at night is a very complex problem," said Achtemeier, who leads the Southern Research Station's Smoke Management Team in Athens, Georgia. "Shifts in the wind can carry smoke to different locations at various times during the same night. You can't really use wind information from nearby weather stations because they usually report wind sp

Contact: Zoe Hoyle
Southern Research Station - USDA Forest Service

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