Regional Fire Managers, Climate Experts Meet To Plan for Next Fire Season

March 23, 2001


Writer: Shoshana Mayden, Institute for the Study of Planet Earth

TUCSON, Ariz -- Fire management officials from Arizona and New Mexico, and climate experts will meet at the University of Arizona Wednesday, March 28, to discuss last year's devastating wildfire season and plan for this season's potential fire danger.

Climate and fire forecasts will be presented Wednesday afternoon. The workshop, "Fire & Climate in the Southwest, 2001," will be held at the Arizona Ballroom of the University of Arizona Student Union in Tucson.

While winter rainfall was above average overall for the region, drier conditions in southeastern Arizona and southern New Mexico are leading to increased fire danger, according to Tim Brown, director of the Program for Climate, Ecosystem, and Fire Applications (CEFA) at Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. In addition, preliminary forecasts for the southwest call for drier spring conditions and an average summer, with a possible delay in the arrival of the monsoon.

"Fire danger may be increasing over the next few months and could become high risk again by May and June, similar to last year," Brown said.

Participants at last February's fire and climate conference predicted extreme fire danger for the southwest's 2000 wildfire season. The predictions were based in part on La Niça conditions -- a climatic pattern that is correlated with dry and warm winters in the southwest. Confidence in this year's forecasts is, however, lower, Brown said.

Workshop organizers hope to learn from the devastating wildfires that ravaged more than 600,000 acres in the southwest last summer.

"Participants will explore interactions of climate, weather, and wildfire during the 2000 fire season, and how last year's experiences might be used to improve fire management decisions this year," said Barbara Morehouse of the UA Institute for the Study of Planet Earth (ISPE). She is program manager for the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) project.

Morehouse, along with ISPE Director Jonathan Overpeck, Tree-Ring Laboratory Director Thomas Swetnam, and other UA researchers, recently received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a geographic information system (GIS) model that fire managers and others will be able to use in strategic planning for long-term fire management.

"The study represents a very innovative effort to integrate fire hazard data, climate factors, human factors, and policy considerations into a single system, and to involve key users in the actual design of the system," Morehouse said. An overview of the project will be presented at the workshop.

Key individuals from throughout the southwestern United States, representing agencies ranging from Arizona Emergency Management to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Arizona State Land Department, are slated to attend this year's conference. CLIMAS, ISPE, the UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and CEFA are sponsoring the workshop, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Forest Service Riverside Fire Laboratory, and the Joint Fire Science Program of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-U.S. Forest Service.

Further details including the workshop agenda and background material are available from the workshop web page: http://www.ispe.arizona.edu/climas/fire/workshops/oneday/index.html

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