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October Science Picks—Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds (Special Edition)



Wildland fires in the Western United States are wreaking havoc on the people, plants and wildlife in their paths. This special edition of Science Picks provides a compilation of fire science and other hot topics. Photos and Web links are also provided to enhance your story. For specific or regional details, go to the National Interagency Fire Center Web site ( If you would like to receive Science Picks via e-mail, would like to change the recipient or no longer want to receive it, please e-mail

(Special Edition) Highlights:

* When the Smoke Clears
* Get a Hot Tape to Tell the Wildland Fire Story
* The Cure for What Aids Wildland Fire - Prescribed Burns
* Given a (Fuel) Break, Nonnative Plants Can Invade Wildlands
* Fire, Water and Water Quality Effects
* Podcast - The Science of Wildfires
* Who Has Time to Find the Hydrant?
* Adding Fuel to the Fire - From Beetles to Firewood
* Additional Fire Tools and Resources
o GeoMAC
o California Fire Planning and Mapping Tools
o Sierra Wildland Fire Reporting System
o National Fire Plan
o Rapid Data Delivery System

When the Smoke Clears

Once the fires die down, many think the dangers of a wildfire are over, but other hazards often follow. Flooding, debris flows and erosion are common hazards that occur following wildfires throughout the Western United States. Scientists in the USGS Landslide Hazards Program are developing methods to quantify these hazards. By sprinkling water on burned hillsides, scientists measure how fast rainfall infiltrates and how much sediment is moved. They have developed methods to predict the chances of a debris flow and how big an event might be. Visit to learn about USGS work on post-fire debris flow hazards or to learn more about landslides in general. For more information, contact Lynn Highland at (800) 654-4966, or
Get a Hot Tape to Tell the Wildland Fire Story

Need footage? We’ve got generic b-roll tape of wildland fires, from various locations, available in most formats for use by all media including news, television programming, independent production and the Web. Contact Don Becker at (605) 594-6175 or
The Cure for What Aids Wildland Fire — Prescribed Burns

During the 2000 Cerro Grande fire in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, fire scorched ridgelines and canyons and destroyed the homes of 400 families. In total, it had blackened 42,869 acres. It was extreme fire behavior, not unlike that experienced now in Southern California. How does one reduce the threat of wildland fire? Scientists from the USGS and staff from the National Park Service, the Los Alamos Fire Department and the Santa Fe National Forest use prescribed burns. Between October 24, 2007, and March 15, 2008, the interagency group will be conducting prescribed burns in open spaces in the Cerro Grande region during favorable weather conditions when humidity is moderate, temperatures are cool and winds are light. Debris piles will be burned to reduce fuel on the surface: grass, pine needles, and dead and downed wood. Why? To reduce the potential for rapid fire spread that could launch a shower of embers and cause burning into adjacent communities. For more information, contact John Hogan at (505) 690-6463 or, or Catherine Puckett at (352) 264-3532 or
Given a (Fuel) Break, Non-native Plants Can Invade Wildlands

Federal, state, local and private land managers in the United States have made it a priority to reduce hazardous fuels that feed wildland fires. But fuel modification programs can unintentionally introduce and spread non-native invasive plant species, according to a newly published report. After completing a study of fuel breaks - which included construction methods, maintenance and fire histories - on California forests and shrublands (sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland and coniferous forests), USGS and U.S. Forest Service scientists say the cover and diversity of non-native species were significantly higher on fuel breaks than in surrounding wildland areas. To learn more, check out the newly released report or contact Jon Keeley at (559) 565-3170 or
Fire, Water and Water Quality Effects

What happens after wildfires have burned across a landscape? Scientists at the USGS are studying the chemistry of ash and its effects on surface runoff and water chemistry. When rain of sufficient intensity falls on burned areas, the resulting surface runoff can catch and drag ash and partially burned organic matter and begin to erode hill slopes and widen channels. When ash is mixed with water, soluble compounds are released that affect the chemistry of streams, lakes and reservoirs. Learn more about fire’s effects on your watershed by contacting Deborah Martin at (303) 541-3024 or file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/cransom.GS/Local%20Settings/Temp/notesFFF692/ For more information see

Podcast — The Science of Wildfires

Hear USGS scientist and wildland fire expert Erik Berg describe some of the tools available to identify wildfires and their risks, tell how science helps provide real-time information to those fighting the fires and talk about will happen after the wildfires occur. Go to For more information, contact Clarice Nassif-Ransom at (703) 648-4299 or
Who Has Time to Find the Hydrant?

Seconds count when responding to a fire emergency. Armed with maps and Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment, a data technician can now gather information on the location, make, model and condition of every hydrant in any busy city, making fire-fighting much easier for first-responders on the ground. The USGS National Geospatial Programs office, which includes The National Map, the Federal Geospatial Data Committee and the Geospatial One-Stop Project, is partnering with federal, state and local governments to ensure this technology and the necessary training are available at the grassroots level. For more information on the many uses of Geospatial information, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or
Adding Fuel to the Fire — From Beetles to Firewood

When a beetle bores into bark, a healthy tree responds by producing pitch that drowns or evicts the beetle. During drought, however, trees may not produce enough sap pressure to control the hundreds of beetles that may attack. The insects carve pathways under the bark, eventually killing the afflicted trees. Those trees become fuel for wildfire. The USGS is developing methods for high-resolution maps that identify high-risk areas. By fusing advanced image classification techniques with available high-resolution data sources, scientists can provide cost-effective and accurate inventories of fire fuels and identify potential risks. For more information on fire-fuel mapping, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or

Story Seeds
GeoMAC, an internet-based mapping application designed for fire and land managers and emergency response personnel, shows dynamic online maps of current fire locations and fire perimeters in the continental United States and Alaska. In 2006, more than 2000 perimeters were loaded into the database.
California Fire Planning and Mapping Tools

The Fire Planning and Mapping Tools Web site lets users quickly create a map of an area, print it and download data to their PC for use with GIS software.
Sierra Wildland Fire Reporting System

The Sierra Wildland Fire Reporting System is a prototype comprehensive reporting system for fires on federal lands in the southern and central Sierra Nevada range. This tool can enhance fire managers’ ability to collaborate and better understand fire and smoke impacts across multi-agency landscapes. This application provides reporting forms and tools for digitizing point and perimeter locations for small fires.
National Fire Plan

Following a landmark wildland fire season in August 2000, the National Fire Plan was developed to actively respond to severe wildland fires and their impacts on communities while ensuring sufficient firefighting capacity for the future. The plan addresses five key points: Firefighting, Rehabilitation, Hazardous Fuels Reduction, Community Assistance, and Accountability. The National Fire Plan’s Web-based application shows the completed fuel treatment sites and communities at risk with base layer information, as well as the proposed fuel treatments for contractors’ information.
Rapid Data Delivery System

The USGS has an internet-based data ordering service for use in wildfire applications by GIS specialists and fire managers. The system features interactive maps integrated with current wildfire information. Users can process and re-project mosaic and tone balance Digital Raster Graphics, Digital Orthophoto Quads, and Digital Elevation Models and automatically disseminate the data for download or for delivery of data on CD-ROM using traditional mail delivery methods. (Note: the RDDS site is password protected and access is limited to wildland fire personnel)


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