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January 31st 2009 off-season grassland wildfire

Author(s): Robert W. Hoenisch
Year Published: 2009

Wildland fires can be high impact events no matter what the season or fuel type. While the first image that comes to mind of wildland fire suppression is timbered mountainous terrain on a late summer afternoon, this wildland fire occurred in relatively flat grasslands during the overnight and early morning hours, during the climatologically coldest time of year. Fire suppression is a high-risk activity no matter what the season or fuel type; however, risks are significantly higher when fighting fire at night and in strong winds with high rates of fire spread. Fuels and fire danger information are widely available during the summer months to assist forecasters in the Red Flag Warning decision-making process, but are not available in the winter. In addition, strong winds are quite common during the winter months on the Montana plains, leading to a decreased situational awareness of critical wildfire potential. This study examines the meteorological conditions that led to the strong winds and significantly warmer and drier than normal conditions which drove the fire. In addition, this study examines some of the remote sensing applications to aid in the detection of wildfires as well as decision support opportunities between forecasters and fire management entities. An initial set of guidelines using observable antecedent fuel and weather conditions as well as critical thresholds for winds, relative humidity and temperature is presented to aid forecasters in Red Flag Warning decision making. Winter season grassland wildfires have historically had a large impact on communities on the Montana plains and a higher degree of situational awareness of high wildfire potential during the wildfire ?off-season? would allow for better decision support by weather forecast offices and increase safety for firefighters.

Citation: Hoenisch, R. 2009. January 31st 2009 off-season grassland wildfire. Tech. Attachment. LiteTA-lite. 09-11. Salt Lake City, UT: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, Western Region.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Extreme Fire Behavior, Case Studies, Weather
Ecosystem(s): Lower montane/foothills/valley grassland
Document Type: Technical Report or White Paper
NRFSN number: 11145
FRAMES RCS number: 11687
Record updated: May 16, 2018