News and Media

Fire Scientists Develop Wildfire Management Playbook

November 18, 2008

Colorado State University researchers have developed a wildfire management playbook for federal agencies to use to strategically manage wildfires.

More than $3 billion spent annually to fight wildfires

Wildland fires increasingly threaten life, property and natural resources and have been costly to fight. Federal agencies spend more than $3 billion annually to fight wildfires. Doug Rideout and Yu Wei from Colorado State’s Fire Economics and Management Laboratory have pioneered a strategic analysis system to address cumulative effects surrounding wildfires. In close cooperation with the National Park Service, they have produced an approach to manage wildland fires more efficiently and effectively.

System is the first of its kind

The system, known as STARFire, or Strategic Treatment Assessment Response spectrum and Fire, is the first of its kind to generate fuel treatment priorities across an entire planning unit or national park; address appropriate management response – assessing when and where to encourage or suppress fires; and the first to address strategic smoke management where communities and local air quality can be adversely affected.

This groundbreaking approach enables fire managers to handle new and emerging policies by balancing the ecosystem benefits of wildfire with the need to protect life, property and natural resources. Federal agencies are interested in pursuing management approaches that suppress fires that threaten life and property while encouraging fires to play natural roles in the forest ecosystem.

Trees on fire

A powerful tool for federal agencies

“STARFire quantifies the risks and benefits of wildfires, enabling agencies to make more confident decisions,” said Rideout, professor in CSU’s Department of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship. “Federal agencies now have access to a powerful tool that is easy to use in the heat of battle or in long-term fire planning to address environmental compliance. By integrating fire effects, fuels and smoke programs, federal fire agencies can now assess action options more quickly and effectively. ”

Fire managers make decisions to carefully balance the costs and benefits of wildfires. In some situations, overly aggressive fire suppression has encouraged ecosystem degradation, beetle infestations and an accumulation of fuels that have possible catastrophic consequences.

Map of the 2008 Tehipite fire in California

A new way to analyze and outline factors contributing to fires

Rideout and Wei use STARFire to analyze and outline contributing factors of wildfires that span across time and landscape and include issues such as fuels, plant species, smoke management, fire behavior, ignition spread probability, ecosystem benefits and losses, historic weather data, cultural trees, property and real estate development.

Once all of the data is compiled and properly assessed, Rideout and Wei develop a series of maps that support collaborative decision-making and inter-agency cooperation.

“STARFire is primarily designed to provide strategic-level fire risk and benefits information used in long-term fire management and planning. However, after a lightening strike causes a fire, managers can also use it to do a quick prediction of the potential consequences of the specific fire,” said Wei, assistant professor in CSU’s Department of Forest, Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship.

First developed and tested at the Tehipite wildfire in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California this summer, STARFire contributed to a “landmark cooperative decision,” according to Jeff Manley, National Park Service official and CSU College of Natural Resources alumnus. STARFire is set for wider deployment to assess Yellowstone as the next national park and with additional funding from the Bureau of Land Management to use the system in other Western states.