Dr. Daniel M. Leavell has extensive experience in regard to wildfires that, I imagine, few with a doctorate could claim. His qualifications to speak on this subject are summarized in this quote from his 2017 CV: “I have been involved with fire behavior and disturbance ecology since March of 1973. My experience with wildland firefighting from 1978 to 2012 included being qualified and having had experience as firefighter, squadboss, crewboss, helitac support crewmember, division group supervisor, safety officer, situation unit leader, infrared interpreter, field observer, Incident Commander Type 3, and Operations Section Chief for Type 1 and 2 incident management teams. I have been a member of several Type 1 and Type 2 incident management teams (including wildland fire use teams) for the Northern Rockies. I was responsible for all operations, tactics (short – and long – term), and personnel on fire incidents. I directly supervised all ground and air personnel, information (including advanced fire behavior predictions), and resources. I ordered and directed these resources to meet objectives in a safe and cost effective manner. I have had 30+ years of firefighting experience in complex and diverse fuel types and terrain throughout the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Southeast, and Alaska and have been cited for excellent leadership and the ability to strategize and direct all resources for immediate, efficient, and effective attainment of objectives. I have served on fires ranging in size from 5 to over 100,000 acres, and have managed and been directly responsible for thousands of human and mechanical resources. And after serving on over 300 fires (including several hurricane relief efforts), only two people I have been responsible for have had minor reported injuries and no fatalities. I am very glad and proud of that and have worked hard to achieve that claim.” (Italics added)
Here are some of the points he makes in regard to the value of forest management in dealing with wildfires:
1) “Dead forest vegetation has been accumulating, drying and remaining cured longer”
2) “The size of forest fuels also greatly influences fire behavior. A quarter-inch diameter twig dries sooner, ignites faster and burns quicker than a 30-inch diameter log because small-diameter wood has more surface area than larger material.”
–> Clarification: “small-diameter wood has more surface area than larger material.” should read: ‘small-diameter wood has more surface area per unit of volume than larger material.’. All else being equal, the higher the surface area per unit of volume the greater the chance of an explosive ignition from a spark (i.e. needles versus logs, shavings vs. lumber and flour vs. seed). In addition, such down wind high surface area per unit of volume materials will dry out more quickly from the heat produced by advancing flames especially if the fuel is above the ground rather than resting on or in the ground.
3) “The drier the wood with more oxygen applied (wind), the hotter it will burn”
4) “Hazards have dramatically increased and exposed our firefighters to more risks. Firefighter safety is always the primary objective and no fire is worth risking a life. For that reason, there is less direct attack on fires than before.”
5) “It has always been easier and safer to suppress fires in responsibly managed forests, where ecosystem health, fuels reduction, wildlife habitat and overall diversity are the primary objectives. This is true today.”
6) “Firefighters use the term red flag conditions to describe when lower humidity, and higher temperatures and winds reduce fuel moisture content. Anything organic can then burn hot if an ignition source starts a fire. Will removing the biomass of live and dead woody fuel affect fire intensity and severity? Of course, it can. The less fuel to burn, the lower fire intensity”
7) “Fuels management is one of the few things we can do along with suppressing fires. We are good at both. Terrain is normally out of our control, as is weather. But, we can manage forest fuels.”
8) “Managing fuels through responsible forest management reduces wildland fire risks, hazards, intensity and severity. It also improves overall forest health and wildlife habitat.”
9) “We have opportunities and choices to make. We can manage our forests responsibly by easing fire back into fire-adapted ecosystems through careful harvests, controlled burns, and various tools in our management toolboxes. Fire and resource management agencies across the West are examining various suppression strategies as an over-abundance of forest vegetation, climate change and more homes (which are fuels, too) in fire-prone areas make massive fires increasingly common and dangerous to residents and firefighters”
10) “We can use science to manage fires to increase firefighter and public safety, foster forest health, promote fire resiliency and nurture wildlife habitat — while improving economic opportunities that will bring jobs. Or, we can let it burn hot and let it go up in smoke”
11) “We can never stop all wildland fires through responsible forest management or otherwise.”
12) “responsible forest management reduces wildland fire risks and hazards. It also reduces fire intensity and severity when they burn in fire-adapted, fire-prone environments.”
–> Clarification: reduced fire intensity and severity make a fire easier/quicker/less costly to extinguish.
Can we all agree that this expert is correct in stating that these are facts (well established fire/forest science) as supported by many other posts and comments on this blog site and elsewhere which have been drawn from scientific journals of old to modern day on-line publications/reports?
If so, can we move on to a discussion of how this should drive our forest policy?
Note: The two –> clarifications are mine.