What is a Fire-Use Wildfire and How is it Beneficial to Forests?

Not every naturally occurring wildland fire is actively suppressed. Naturally occurring wildland fires are normally caused by lightening strikes in areas with fallen trees and other dry accumulated fuels. Under certain circumstances, some wildland fires will be allowed to actively burn in order to help clear these fuels and promote forest health. When a wildland fire is allowed to burn within a pre-defined area to achieve a resource or protection objective it is referred to as a Fire-Use Wildfire. A fire-use fire is different from a prescribed fire in which firefighters intentionally set fires to achieve similar objectives. In addition, federally mandated guidelines state that every human-caused wildland fire will be suppressed and will not be managed for resource benefits. Additionally, once a wildland fire has been managed for suppression objectives, it may never be managed for resource benefit objectives. In other words, a wildland fire must either be suppressed or used for a resource/protection objective but not both.

The Departments of Interior and Agriculture, together with tribal governments, state governments, and local jurisdictions, have the responsibility for protection and management of natural resources on public and Indian Trust lands in the United States. A wildland use fire is one option available to Federal agencies that have an approved land use plan and need to achieve a resource or protection objective. Contributing factors that help steer a fire managers decision-making process are often incident specific. Location, available resources, predicted weather, topography, air quality, and predicted fire behavior are all factors that contribute to fire management decisions.

If a fire is located in remote, steep, rugged or highly inaccessible terrain and people are not threatened, managing the fire as a wildland use fire to meet a protection objective may be more appropriate and can help avoid putting firefighters in unnecessary danger. A wildland use fire can meet resource objectives like helping to maintain healthy forests by supporting a diverse ecosystem. Some wild plants and trees even need fire in order for their seeds to germinate. A carefully monitored wildland use fire can also help reduce naturally occurring fuels accumulation, which could lead to an even bigger wildfire if left unchecked.

Current Large Fire-Use Wildfires

Empire Fire – Yosemite National Park – 1,797 acres

Empire Fire-use Fire Near Yosemite

The Empire Fire burning near Yosemite National Park was caused by lightening and is being managed to promote the health of the ecosystem and protective objectives.

Young Fire – Six Rivers NF & Siskiyou Wilderness – 2,200 acres






august 2017 regional wildfire forecasts

Regional Wildfire Forecasts: July – August 2017

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, June 2017 saw record-setting heat events throughout the western United States, while the southeastern wildfire season diminished due to precipitation. The southwestern wildfire season (through Arizona and New Mexico) is expected to end with rains at the end of July, which is typical. However, Southern California will continue to experience wildfire events due to heat and critically dry fuel. The following regional wildfire forecasts for late July and August 2017 are based on predictions and research from the National Interagency Fire Center.

july 2017 regional wildfire forecasts

august 2017 regional wildfire forecasts

Alaska: Throughout August, fuel dryness and wildfire potential is high in the Upper Yukon Valley and other parts of northern Alaska. Likelihood of wildfires is lower for the second half of the summer than the first half throughout the state. Late-August rains are expected to end fire season.

Northwest: The remainder of July will see typical rainfall and temperatures. Conditions warmer and drier than average will likely occur in August, but significant large wildfire potential will remain normal. Fire potential will start to decline at the end of August.

Northern California + Hawaii: Above average wildfire potential is expected in the San Francisco Bay area, the mountains surrounding the San Joaquin Valley and the western side of Hawaii’s Big Island. Wildfire potential is below normal in the Northern Sierras due to above average precipitation in the spring, and wildfire potential is normal for the east side of the region through August.

Southern California: In July and August, fire potential is higher than expected in the higher elevations of the Sierras and above normal fire potential is expected in the foothills and inner valley areas. Everywhere else has average expected wildfire potential. The high wildfire potentials are due to extended heat waves in June, which may cause critical dryness to be reached by the end of July.

Northern Rockies: Central-eastern Montana and western North Dakota experienced little rain in June, resulting in drought conditions and above average wildfire potential through August. Normal potential is expected in the rest of the region. The entire region will likely experience above average temperatures into September.

Great Basin: Before July, the region experienced weather extremes, with temperature being ± 20 degrees compared to the historical average. The high elevations of Wyoming and Idaho will see below normal wildfire potentials through August, while the lower elevations of Utah and Nevada will see above normal fire potential.

Southwest: Northern Arizona and the Four Corners region is expected to see above average wildfire potential until August, when significant wildfire potential will go back to normal. The rest of the region will see normal wildfire potential through July and August. The summer monsoon season is expected to start on time according to historical data.

Rocky Mountain: After above average June temperatures and precipitation deficits, above normal fire potential will develop through August in western Colorado and parts of North and South Dakota. Normal wildfire potential is expected in the rest of the region, except the mountains of Wyoming, which have lower than normal wildfire potential.

Eastern Area: Normal fire potential is expected in this region through August. Above normal precipitation occurred over the beginning of the summer and will continue through the end of the summer.

Southern Area: Below normal wildfire potential is expected in the majority of the region through August due to high humidity and elevated fuel moisture levels.


For more information on wildfire outlooks and regional wildfire forecasts, visit NICC Predictive Services.


RFW in Santa Barbara

Weekend Red Flag Conditions for Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara area expecting Sundowner Winds with Red Flag

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the Santa Barbara County Mountains and South Coast region for Thursday from 0900 hours through Saturday 1000 hours PDT. The area will see sundowner winds gusting up to 40 mph and relative humidity as low as 10%. These conditions, combined with temperatures reaching into the mid 90’s in the afternoons and 100’s in isolated locations, may contribute to explosive fire behavior. The regions most at risk are the foothills and through the passes and canyons.

A sundowner wind is an offshore northerly Foehn wind that occurs near Santa Barbara, California. The winds surface when a ridge of high pressure is directly north of the area, and they blow with greatest force when the pressure gradient is perpendicular to the axis of the Santa Ynez Mountains which rise directly behind Santa Barbara. These winds often precede Santa Ana events by a day or two, as it is normal for high-pressure areas to migrate east, causing the pressure gradients to shift to the northeast.


Red Flag in Santa Barbara

Red Flag warning area of Santa Barbara County

Significant Santa Barbara Sundowner Events

Sundowner winds are dried and heated by the warm inland valleys and deserts. As narrow canyons and valleys compress the winds, they become stronger and overpower the diurnal winds. Firefighting efforts during a sundowner wind event can become extremely dangerous as well as difficult. Three significant fires in the last three decades have resulted in part because of sundowner conditions.

  1. The Jesusita fire in May 2009 burned 8,733 acres and destroyed 80 homes while damaging 15 more. Most of the destruction occurred while sundowner winds pushed the main fire through populated areas.
  2. The Painted Cave Fire during June 1990 rapidly grew to 5,000 acres, destroying 427 buildings and killing 1 civilian.
  3. The Sherpa Fire grew to 4,000 acres overnight due to the sundowner winds, damaging the water system for El Capitán State Beach in the middle of June of last fire season.
three major red flag sundowner fires

Three significant Sundowner fires in Santa Barbara County


Sources: Wikipedia, NIFC Fire history, LA Times, KEYT Santa Barbara