Interview with Neil Gifford and Tyler Briggs on Flat Rock and the Flat Rock Wildfire of 2018

Photos by Tyler Briggs and Mark Lesser

In preparation for our August webinar and September workshop, we posed questions to Neil Gifford, Conservation Director at Albany Pine Bush, and Tyler Briggs, Fire Management and GIS specialist at Albany Pine Bush. Neil has always been fascinated with Flat Rock and conducted his research at the site while in graduate school. Neil was the impetus for the our workshop there and sparked our interest in the research and fire history at the site. Tyler helped fight the 2018 Flat Rock Wildfire and was able to give a first hand account of some of the operations that occurred at that time.

For more information on the August 2019 Webinar on the site CLICK HERE>
For more information on the September 2019 Workshop and field trip CLICK HERE>

Questions for Neil Gifford:

Where is Flat Rock? Flat Rock is in NY’s hinterlands, north of the Adirondack Park and about 10 miles from the U.S.-Canada border in the Champlain Valley of Clinton County.

What makes it so special? Flat Rock it is impressive and is unlike anywhere I have ever been; it is big, flat, stark, beautiful, and the end game of an almost unimaginable confluence of geology, glacial history and wildland fire in a landscape dominated by run-of-the-mill northern hardwood forest. It is also a very special classroom and laboratory. Flat Rock is one of those natural places that once you have visited you can never forget; it stains your brain.

Fire Ecology: At roughly 3,000 acres, Flat Rock is the largest in a short chain of enigmatic habitat islands that support what the NY Natural Heritage Program has classified as jack pine sandstone pavement barrens. There is little soil (<4 inches) and there are expansive areas of exposed pink/gray sandstone bedrock; the bedrock was exposed following a catastrophic flood at the end of last ice age (and much of it is still barren). Unlike the jack pine (Pinus banksiana) of the upper Midwest, the lack of soil has severely stunted tree growth. There is also no ecotone with the surrounding hardwood forest, and little more than a seemingly endless thicket of blueberry and huckleberry in the understory. Jack pine is serotinous, naturally regenerating only after intense wildland fire. Preceding the historic January 1998 ice storm, the site was composed of four even-aged stands dating to stand-replacing wildfires in 1919, 1940, 1957 and 1965. Mechanical management after the ice storm has successfully regenerated jack pine and alleviated wildfire risk. Lastly, Flat Rock represents the southern extent of jack pine’s range and the northern extent for pitch pine; the southern end of the site contains a pitch pine heath barrens.  

Living Classroom: Since the 1970’s, Flat Rock has been used as a living classroom for countless undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in various environmental science majors at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. The bulk of the site is owned by two entities, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute. Through a cooperative relationship between the two, a subset of students in the Center for Earth and Environmental Science (CEES) attend an intense hands-on residential semester each fall at the Miner Center in Chazy, NY. Flat Rock’s unique ecology, geology, hydrology and wildlife make it a perfect place to learn Wildlife Ecology and Management, Introduction to Soil Science, and Forest Ecology and Management. The site is also the subject of many undergraduate and graduate research projects, including my own 1994 study of how the site’s fire history influenced breeding season birds.

What are you most excited about for the September workshop? I am most excited to share this site and its amazing fire ecology, management, and scholarship with the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange (NAFSE) community. Flat Rock seems to be one region’s best kept secrets. Its fire regime and fire ecology are unlike anything I have seen at other fire-dependent sites in the region, yet very few folks seem to have heard about it or been there. Since encouraging education and training in fire ecology and management is a NAFSE priority, I am equally excited to introduce our network to the CEES program, and its students and faculty to NAFSE. It is also one of the few places in the region where undergraduate students are learning field-based fire ecology and management.

Questions for Tyler Briggs:

What role did you plan in operations on the 2018 wildfire at Flat Rock?

I worked as a Firing Boss on Monday (7/16) and a Crew/Engine Boss on Tuesday (7/17). The fire started on 7/12/2018. Logistics Section Chief Bryan Gallagher called me on Sunday evening (7/15/2018). He told me they had finished most of the dozer work around the fire. He asked if I was available and interested in helping with some burnouts the following day in locations where the terrain would not allow the dozer to go direct with the fire.

  • I brought a crew of six up from Albany pre-dawn on Monday morning. We drove some equipment up: a TNC Type 6 engine and two Albany Pine Bush UTVs. The crew consisted of three volunteers, two APB seasonal firefighters, and myself.

  • We were assigned to division ‘Z’ in the morning briefing and would work under Division Supervisor Michael Bodnar.

  • Div. Sup. Bodnar had us scout the line for firing while two dozers and the Moriah Prison Crew prepped the line for the burnout.

  • I called NOAA and got an updated weather forecast and directed firing and holding operations on two burnouts (one about 30 acres, the second about 10 acres) on Monday the 16th.

  • Tuesday, we mopped up what we lit off Monday.


What challenges did you and other firefighters encounter?

  • New location and fuel: It is always a challenge working on a new fire in a place that you have not been before. I have worked a wildfire in the jack pine forests located in the Huron-Manistee National Forest in Michigan. The fuels at Flat Rock are not identical, but are similar to the fuels in Michigan. Flat Rock is also not that different from the Pine Barrens of Albany or Long Island.

  • Working around equipment: The dozers are very loud, and it is important to communicate with the Heavy Equipment Boss,and to give them their distance. They were working in front of the burnout, increasing the width of the firebreak from 10 to 30 feet.

  • Weather Conditions and location of Firebreaks: On a prescribed fire, you get to position your crew and equipment on the down-wind side of the burn unit and burn on a day with favorable winds. The wildfire and terrain influenced the firebreak along Division ‘Z’. The line had some zig and zag that created some issues with the wind direction. We had some heat and firebrands blowing over the line and one slop-over about the size of a truck. It was also late July and very hot outside, so it was important to keep the crew hydrated.

  • Human Factors: The fire had been burning very actively for 4 days before we got there. The crew had spent a lot of time and energy getting the firebreak around it. We really wanted to make sure the burnouts were done in a safe and effective manner so that Division Z could be buttoned up. Two State Police Bell helicopters with bambi-buckets were circling the burn in support of our first burnout. Before we got to the second, the IC had increased the helicopter total to four with the support of two National Guard Blackhawks (as a contingency). Stress was high.

What was the fire behavior like?

  • The fire had flame lengths that varied from less than 1 ft. in wetter areas to greater than 30 ft. in stands of jack pine with dense huckleberry and blueberry underneath.

  • For a closer look at the fire behavior, you are welcome to follow this link to my pictures and videos. 

The last question was directed at both Neil and Tyler- they both had their own take on the answer.

Do you see a potential role for prescribed fire in meeting ecological and human safety objectives at Flat Rock?

Tyler: I think that Flat Rock will catch fire again. I believe that most of it is owned by the State, and the use of prescribed fire will depend on their management objectives.

Neil: Yes. Since jack pine typically regenerates as a result of stand-replacing crown fires, relying solely on natural or accidental wildfire here is unpredictable and may threaten both the ecology and the surrounding communities. Despite being sparsely populated, losing even one life or building to a catastrophic wildfire is unacceptable. The 2018 growing season wildfire burned under relatively moderate conditions and produced what seemed to be relatively manageable fire behavior, yet it seemed to benefit fuel reduction while maintaining the site’s ecology. Carefully planned prescribed fire in this remote pine barren may, therefore, help protect both ecology and human safety, while offering educational and fire training opportunities.

Prescribed fire research burn with 360 degree video from the NJ pinelands

by Mike Gallagher, Matt Hoehler, Inga La Puma, Nick Skowronski, Rory Hadden, Eric Mueller, Ken Clark, Zak Campbell, Carlos Walker-Ravena, and Simone Zen

In March of 2019, researchers from the USFS Northern Research Station’s Silas Little Experimental Forest, University of Edinburgh, National Institute for Standards and Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Notre Dame, University of Michigan, West Virginia University, Rochester Institute of Technology and the Tall Timbers Research Station came together in the New Jersey Pinelands to conduct a series of innovative fire research experiments on New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s Parker Preserve with the help of New Jersey Forest Fire Service and students from the Northern Arizona University (NAU) SAFE program.  The main research project was geared towards understanding how fuel and environmental conditions operate at different scales to produce variable fire behavior and ember production and funded by the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and the Joint Fire Science Program.  The NAU students, visiting as part of a fire extern program, worked directly under NJFFS section fire wardens Thomas Gerber and Ben Brick to create a safe baseline, prior to the ignition of the research experiment area.  While this research is ongoing and will produce interesting findings in the coming months, NIST’s fireproof 360 degree video camera collected this exciting interactive video which demonstrates what things are like inside a real prescribed fire! 

Use your cursor to pan around during the video for different views of the fire coming through!

Understanding the process: Community Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) comes to Ocean Township, New Jersey, 2018-2019

Understanding the process: Community Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) comes to Ocean Township, New Jersey

The CPAW team in March of 2018 in Ocean Township, NJ.

The CPAW team in March of 2018 in Ocean Township, NJ.

The Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program is a program run by Headwaters Economics that brings together planners, scientists, and wildfire experts to “work with local municipalities to reduce wildfire risk through improved land use planning”. CPAW came to New Jersey after Ocean Township applied to the program via their Office of Emergency Management liaison, Bill Edwards, a former chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

Professionals from Headwaters Economics, Wildfire Planning International - Molly Mowery, Wildland Professional Solutions -Kelly Johnston, and the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station - Eva Karau, provided analysis and assistance to Ocean Township officials for an entire year at no cost to the township. The New Jersey State Forest Fire and Forest Services were also involved, as well as local emergency management, planning, administrative and police personnel.

The CPAW program conducted field visits Ocean Township several times throughout the year and held numerous calls with local experts to assess wildfire risk and understand local zoning and planning ordinances in relation to wildfire. Throughout the process CPAW incorporated comments from the New Jersey stakeholders to assess wildfire hazard and wildland urban interface risk. Any potential changes to the township Master Plan and Community Wildfire Protection Plan, as well as the county Hazard Mitigation Plan were vetted with local authorities and inconsistencies addressed.

The first step was to create an updated wildfire hazard map for the area. Spatial modeling of burn probability and flame length was performed by Eva Karau of the Rocky Mountain Research Station (see maps below). As part of the vetting process, stakeholders found that the fuel models in the pinelands were predominantly of the shrub fuel category. This shrub fuel model was originally assigned in the LANDFIRE fuels map to capture the rate of spread that is typical of the ecosystem. However, this resulted in absolutely no canopy fire in the initial wildfire hazard results; therefore, Eva had to adjust the shrub fuel type input parameters in order to incorporate the important aspect of canopy height. This adjustment resulted in a more accurate map of canopy fire probabilities and flame heights as well as wildfire hazard across the region.

Wildfire hazard maps created by Eva Karau for the CPAW program in Ocean Township, NJ.

Wildfire hazard maps created by Eva Karau for the CPAW program in Ocean Township, NJ.

At the end of the process, officials in Ocean Township received a detailed document that lays out a clear path on how to address zoning regulations and tie all of the planning documents together into a cohesive unit that addresses wildfire in a unified and consistent way. The basis for prioritizing the recommendations is the wildfire hazard map. State officials now have a better understanding of how all of the zoning and regulations work together between the different regulatory agencies and spatial areas as well as a great example for how to look at wildfire hazard and risk across the state.

The CPAW program is open to any local municipality (town, city or county) with planning authority and applications are held on a yearly basis.

Reaction: NAFSE/NFFPC's ESRI Decision-Support Tools for Wildland Fire Management Workshop

We asked a few questions of Marie Cook (GIS Specialist, New Jersey Forest Fire Service, New Jersey Forest Service) about the ESRI workshop that we held in conjunction with the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact at the end of November! Thanks Marie, for providing your first hand account! Contact if you are interested in the videos of this workshop.

What did you learn unexpectedly? 

I was unexpectedly introduced to one of Esri’s newer mobile apps, Workforce for ArcGIS. During the workshop, Fern used Workforce to dispatch data collection tasks during team field exercises. Each team leader received assignments through the app and used the map-centric interface to navigate to the location of our next task. Integration with apps like Collector and Survey123 allowed each to be launched directly from Workforce, taking the guess work out of which app and map was needed for each collection. Fern could track field activities on a map “back at the office” to quickly tell which tasks were accepted, declined, and completed during the exercises. 

We also got news to watch for the release of Aurora, a new version of the Collector for ArcGIS app! 

How did group dynamics play into the workshop? 

While fire and maps brought everyone together for the workshop, there was a lot of variation in the roles each of us play in our home agencies. This variety of experience and expertise seemed to have rounded the perspectives of each team. Within my group, this dynamic allowed us each to use free work time to independently explore and showcase a different tool in the ArcGIS Online (AGO) suite to address needs we have in our day jobs. Other groups found more common ground and worked together to design complete workflows using multiple applications to collect, display, and report data. Overall, I was reminded that drastically different goals can sometimes be accomplished with the same tools and similar workflows. 


Photo by Amanda Mahaffey, Fern Ferner of ESRI, second from right.

 How will skills learned in the workshop be used in the future? 

I know everyone in attendance walked away with at least one idea of how tools demonstrated in the workshop can be used to make data collection and information sharing more efficient at home. From data collection tools for field staff to custom reporting dashboards for agency administrators, the vast and growing utility of Esri’s AGO tools is just beginning to be realized by many. I believe the workshop was delivered in such a way that attendees gained the confidence to embrace changing technologies, along with the foundation of understanding and skills needed to implement AGO workflows within their home agencies. 

Field Trip Recap: Experimental wind tunnel tour for wildland fire applications

Field Trip Recap: Experimental wind tunnel tour for wildland fire applications
Written by Amanda Mahaffey, Photos by Amanda Mahaffey

(Don’t miss the videos of the tour and wind tunnel experiment linked on our event page!)


On a fair September afternoon, NAFSE held its first-ever indoor field trip. We were hosted by Dr. Albert Simeoni and numerous colleagues and graduate students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute fire lab for a full afternoon of lab-based fire experiments that lead to wildland fire applications. A great group of scientists and fire managers participated and interacted with each other over lunch and throughout the tour.


To set the stage, Dr. Simeoni outlined the long history of fire research at WPI, which houses the one of the oldest collections of fire protection research in the country. Since its founding in 1865, WPI has strived to educate aspiring professional engineers and scientists through hands-on practice and applied instruction. Today, Dr. Simeoni's work is part of the Strategic Environmental Research and Developmen Program (SERDP) in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service and several universities. NAFSE's webinar series, "Fine Scale, Big Scale: Wildland Fire Dynamics Research for Informed Management," highlights the work of these project collaborators who seek to understand, quantify, and predict wildland fire behavior based on multiple scales of research.


The NAFSE field trip to WPI highlighted the laboratory-scale experiments and their application to real-life wildland fire conundrums. How fast does fire burn through different fine fuel types? What if the wind is blowing? How can we predict fire behavior in pitch pine-scrub oak forest ecosystems under different conditions? How are fuel cans and chainsaws designed for safe transportation and use by wildland firefighters? What happens when fuels burn on open water?

During this field trip, the group visited the Combustions Lab, observed a sample run in the fire propagation apparatus, and watched fire spread in the wind tunnel. Thanks to the background talks, these seemingly simple experiments took on new meaning. The field trip participants gained a new appreciation for the challenges - and successes - in quantifying fire behavior. Throughout the afternoon, the focus was not only on the technical details of the experiments themselves, but how they will be translated to wildland fire situations. Some of these experiments are still in their early stages, but the SERDP team and WPI researchers hope to have applicable answers to some of these questions in the next few years. In the meantime, the fire manager community will help keep the research real by continually raising new and important questions for these fire protection engineers.

Checking out the portable wind tunnel.

Checking out the portable wind tunnel.

See our event page for videos of each speaker on the field trip!

Interview: Tom Gerber of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service Travels to Tall Timbers for the Prescribed Fire Consortium Week

In mid-April, Tom Gerber was invited by NAFSE to travel to Tall Timbers Research Station located in Tallahassee, Florida as an ambassador for NAFSE representing fire managers in the Northeast during the Prescribed Fire Consortium annual week of fireline experimentation on the property. Although Tom is a community representative for NAFSE representing the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, he travelled to Tall Timbers Prescribed Fire Consortium meeting/field work week as a New Jersey cranberry farmer and land manager as well. These perspectives were important in the mix of folks who participated in observing and conducting the work throughout the week.  Tom answered a few questions after being down at Tall Timbers to observe the research, collaborations, public interactions, and ecosystem challenges presented by long-leaf pine prescribed fire.

Tom Gerber, NAFSE Community Representative, at right, on a research burn in New Jersey's pinelands. Photo by Nick Skowronski.

Tom Gerber, NAFSE Community Representative, at right, on a research burn in New Jersey's pinelands. Photo by Nick Skowronski.

What was it like to finally visit the Tall Timbers Research Station, a stronghold of prescribed fire research and history?
It was interesting to see the similarities with New Jersey with the long history of prescribed fire in the region, fire is everything there! It is essentially the other side of the greater pine ecosystem with NJ being towards the northern end. People were super, the old plantation farm house was beautiful. Tallahassee is 25 minutes from Tall Timbers and they have limited growth and development in the area, similar to the Pinelands Management Area.

What is the goal of the Prescribed Fire Consortium research group you were visiting there?
This group of scientists got together to fill in the gaps in prescribed fire science. Most wildland fire science is concerned with wildfires, rather than prescribed fires. This group is looking at modeling tools that work for prescribed fires as well as the unique fire effects we get from prescribed fires.

Consortium group observe area after a burn. Photo by Brian Wiebler

Consortium group observe area after a burn. Photo by Brian Wiebler

What was your primary goal for visiting during this week?
I wanted to see what was going on down there and see if NJ and the North Atlantic region could do similar things. I was going as a representative of fire managers in the Northeast, so I wanted to compare what we do and see the significance of annual burning that is common there.

What was your favorite moment of the trip?
My favorite moment was meeting Paul, an old timer land manager on the tree plantation who studied under Neal as a teen (from the Stoddard-Neal method of ecological forestry). He had good local knowledge. 

Who did you most identify with and why?
I most identified with Wayne Taylor, a land manager at Tall Timbers. He overseas 100,000 acres of forest and is the landscape fire team coordinator. He deals with smoke management, and different management goals for different blocks. They have a lot of equipment and spend almost $20,000 a year on fuel to conduct prescribed fires.

What was something brand new that you learned? 
Most things I learned re-affirmed the institutional knowledge we have in NJ at the upper range of the pines. I learned that the longleaf needles have double the flame length of our pitch pine needles.

What is your biggest take home message or advice for managers in the Northeast based on your experience in Tall Timbers? 
My biggest take home is that we need to keep promoting and educating the public on the importance of prescribed fire in the North Atlantic region.

Thank you Mike Gallagher and Nick Skowronski for helping with this interview.

Spring/Summer Webinar Series

Fine Scale, Big Scale: Wildland Fire Dynamics Research for Informed Management

NAFSE is proud to present our Spring/Summer webinar series on research funded by the Department of Defense Strategic Research and Development Program, the Joint Fire Science program, and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station. This series covers all aspects of fire behavior and all scales of measurement. The overarching idea is to improve on fire spread and behavior models from 1970s empirical models using physics-based measurements. This requires studying all scales of fire behavior with different fuels and instrumentation (see graphic below). Going from the small laboratory experiments to the operational field observations, this study tries to understand what generalizations for fire behavior can be derived across all scales and types of measurement; and also what applies at one scale, but not others. To see all of the series webinars go to our webpage on the event. Check out all of the excellent resources there that help explain and round out the research from all angles.

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Igniting Exchange 2018 Recap

Exchange. Ignited.

Looking for videos and .pdfs of presentations and posters? Click here.

Igniting Exchange was the biggest joint initiative between the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange and the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact to date. Every year, the Compact holds a Winter Awareness Meeting with a range of speakers and topics in wildfire suppression and fire management. This year, however, NAFSE was able to partner with the Compact and provide over 30 speakers with a focus on fire science and management needs in the North Atlantic region. Approximately 220 people signed-up for the meeting. Planning led by Amanda Mahaffey of NAFSE and Tom Parent of the Compact pulled in all aspects of both organizations, leveraging the talents of each. The NAFSE Community Reps and the Compact Working Teams were also integral to planning a true partners event.

The meeting week began with several pre-meetings of groups utilizing Igniting Exchange to advance fire management in the Northeast. On Monday, the Northeast Regional Strategy Committee (NE RSC) for the Cohesive Strategy met face to face. It was a great kickoff to the narrative that we hoped would continue for the rest of the week. The discussion touched on updating wildfire risk assessments, improving prescribed fire coordination and resource availability between states, and increasing engagement with local firefighters. 

Northeast Regional Strategy Committee face to face meeting

Northeast Regional Strategy Committee face to face meeting

On Tuesday morning, the Compact held its working team meetings, and NAFSE leaders participated in the Fire Science Working Team meeting. The Fire Science Working Team discussed the feasibility of a regional prescribed fire council and the adoption of Compact-wide technology.

On Tuesday afternoon, the NAFSE Leadership Team hosted our annual face-to-face meeting with our Community Representatives. The Community Reps are tasked with keeping the Leadership Team up to date on current happenings throughout the region as well as topics of interest in their communities. Our renewal proposal was the biggest topic on the agenda. Our Reps had comments on the proposal as well as potential topics to add, such as: pollinator interactions with prescribed fire, interactions between invasives and prescribed fire, and the social and ecological issues of reintroducing fire on the landscape. We had a productive conversation with our guest Jack McGowan-Stinski of the Lake States Fire Science Consortium centered around students and incorporating more activities to involve interested universities and colleges across our region. For example, NAFSE could propose guest lectures to get students, departments and deans interested in promoting more wildland fire science courses into their programs. This conversation was enhanced by the presence of numerous students sponsored to come to Igniting Exchange, several of whom are also part of our Virtual Fire Science Lab group. Each student shared his or her interests, and in response, Community Reps chimed in with ideas or contacts for the students to pursue. We discussed providing mentor connections for the students within our NAFSE network. This meeting provided us up to date topics of interest and concerns and were directly incorporated in our renewal proposal.

Community representative meeting of the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange (top). Student discussion portion of the meeting (bottom).

On Wednesday, the audience was introduced to the co-chairs for the day: one member of the Compact and one member of NAFSE’s leadership team. The idea of daily co-chairs was important in representing the voices of both scientists and managers. The morning reports from the Compact working groups on Wednesday gave an excellent overview of what managers are thinking about and dealing with on a daily basis, and how the Compact aids them in their work. Before lunch, we were treated to the keynote speaker provided by the Compact, David Cooper, a retired Navy SEAL who gave an inspiring speech on behavior-driven leadership. Central themes in his talk included the importance of honesty from your group as well as the ability to take criticism and improve your leadership skills.

Opening remarks by Tom Parent (left). David Cooper, keynote speaker (right).

After lunch, we arrived at the heart of the program, which was organized by soliciting speakers on focused topics and providing a logical progression in each session. The first session was on the Gatlinburg fires and began with Steve Norman, who put the Gatlinburg fire in the regional context and put the 2016 fire season into context with other historical fire seasons. Next up was Henri Grissino-Mayer out the of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, who took us on a virtual trip of the progression of the Gatlinburg fire, from the week leading up to the fire, the lightning-fast blowup, and after-fire reactions from all perspectives. Finally, we had Matt Lovitt out of the Pigeon Forge Fire Department give his perspective of the operations of the fire and some of the knowledge gaps and miscommunication that occurred. This session provided a great combination of the larger picture of the fire season, the week leading up to the event, and in-the-moment decisions that had to be made with the information at hand.

Panel on Gatlinburg/Appalachian 2016 fires with Dr. Steve Norman, Dr. Henri Grissino-Myers and Matt Lovitt.

Panel on Gatlinburg/Appalachian 2016 fires with Dr. Steve Norman, Dr. Henri Grissino-Myers and Matt Lovitt.

Our next session focused on smoke models and fire weather. First, Mike Kiefer started off with an overview of smoke models and how they work. (NAFSE also has a research brief based on the smoke model review paper that Mike referred to in his talk). Although these models can get quite technical, Mike was able to distill the models down, explaining the main differences between them and what they are best used for. This served as a great lead-in to Joel Carlson’s real-life uses of the smoke models that Mike had just described. Joel provided a great perspective of someone that uses science-based tools on a regular basis to plan prescribed fires. Finally, Eric Evenson of the National Weather Service gave us a great overview of the fire weather information available online for our region. Eric also introduced us to the new website that the fire science working group has put together for the Compact which incorporates all of the Northeast focused fire weather websites into one website.

Once the afternoon session was concluded, attendees perused the posters, discussed the results with the authors, and checked out numerous high-tech vendors in the back of the room. We finished off the evening with the banquet where the Compact gave out several yearly awards, the Karl Kenyon gadget hour was conducted and judged with much mirth, and the NAFSE leadership team presented Compact director, Tom Parent with a thank-you gift of a NAFSE T-shirt. Several people noted that many attendees stayed an exceptionally long time at the banquet talking and getting to know each other rather than leaving for other venues.

Evening banquet.

Evening banquet.

On Thursday, after breakfast, the group was asked to attend the session of their choice. New Jersey’s Pinelands: A Fire Science and Management Playground was offered in the main meeting room downstairs, while the Technology Tools session took place upstairs. Highlights from upstairs included Alex Entrup of Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC sporting his handy iPad holder field setup with apps that he uses daily, and Bob Kremens of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute explaining the physics of fire and how you measure it in an engaging and understandable manner. Presenters were encouraged to ‘bring it home’ to their audience and explain how their technology can help managers with decision-making and day-to-day operations.

Yale University student Emily Dolhansky.

Yale University student Emily Dolhansky.

The New Jersey session downstairs was equally information-packed with Ken Clark, Mike Gallagher, and Nick Skowronski of the USDA Forest Service detailing some of the work that has come out of over ten years of focused research on fire, carbon flux, and remote sensing in the pinelands of New Jersey. Strong partnerships between state, federal and non-profit organizations have been key to the success of this research. The three talks offered at Igniting Exchange highlighted the latest in the results of this collaborative atmosphere.

The second dual morning sessions were flash talks and a session on fire, fuels and silvicultural tools. The flash talk session was so varied and interesting it is difficult to summarize here; however, one highlight included Jack McGowan-Stinski’s talk on growing season burns and breaking down some of the long-held beliefs that surround the exclusion of these burns. Our three student presenters, Emily Dolhansky, Noémie Gonzalez, and Casey Olechnowicz all gave great presentations about their current projects with thought provoking question-and-answer sessions after each. Participants appreciated the diversity of topics, but perhaps more significantly, the presentations exposed the audience to research and management questions that still need to be answered.

Downstairs the discussion focused on the interactions of mechanical treatments and prescribed fire. The first speaker, Jake McCumber, is charged with balancing the Army’s needs for training grounds with rare species habitat needs and fire safety. He achieves these goals through partnerships and the integration of silvicultural tools with fire. Next, Jack McGowan-Stinski of the Lake States Fire Science Consortium shared an approach to invasive species controls by blending fire ecology and prescribed fire, with an emphasis on using the seasonality of the species and fire effects to guide decision-making. Finally, Helen Mills Poulos from Wesleyan University shared lessons from a research project on the effects of mowing and prescribed fire in rare coastal sandplain grasslands, emphasizing the influence of human values in determining restoration goals.

Throughout Igniting Exchange, our hardy lunches and sweet-filled breaks did not disappoint. These times of socialization provided an opportunity for new partnerships to form and new contacts to be made. For example, during lunch on Thursday, NAFSE and Compact leaders met with Jon Regosin and Caren Caljouw from MassWildlife and Neil Gifford from the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission to discuss how we could team up for a new multi-state project establishing a network of treatment sites for pollinators in xeric habitats in the Northeast. Participants also had the opportunity to catch up with speakers and dive deeper into discussions about issues in fire science and management during our breaks. 

Pollinator group discussing partnerships (left). Breaks with vendors, posters, and discussion (right).

The afternoon sessions were once again held in the main downstairs room to share the latest information on spatial tools in fire management. Greg Dillon showed us the different elements that make up a good wildland fire risk assessment and stressed the importance of local involvement. Chris “Fern” Ferner showed us the latest and greatest in operational GIS capabilities such as the Collector tool for the audience to check out, and Danny Lee gave us perspective on how all this spatial data is gathered and used for fire science as well as other relevant disturbances such as insect kills and blowdowns.

Greg Dillon speaking about wildfire risk assessments.

Greg Dillon speaking about wildfire risk assessments.

Finally, in our last session, consultant Lloyd Irland, Matt Carroll of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Tom Parent of the Compact asked questions about how our current environment stacks up to the extreme events of the past and how prepared we might be for those events now. Brent Ruby gave the audience an idea of how large fires can affect firefighter physiology and how new technology is coming out to help prevent heat exhaustion-related injuries. The themes explored in this session echoed back to the qualities of behavior-driven leaders outlined by the keynote speaker.

At the conclusion of the meeting, co-chair of the day Erin Lane noted that the meeting focused quite a bit around tools, and the following points were necessary to the proper use of technology tools in wildland fire:

1.      Stakeholder involvement from the development
2.     Data-driven, evidence-based science as the foundation for management.
3.     Applicability to the user. If a tool isn’t applicable—it’s not much of a tool.

Closing comments by Erin Lane also summarized the overall feel of the event and how ideas and relationships made at this meeting can serve as the beginning to long-term progress in our region. Erin concluded by pointing out the actions that will help us continue the exchange of ideas.

1.     Connect. We made connections here, so now we must follow-up! Don’t wait. Solidify connections with a phone call or email. Talk again and make plans.
2.     Ask. Next time you have the chance, ask yourself- what’s the science behind this? What’s the applicability of this science? We began with talks focusing on basic science and moved towards more applied science and risk assessments that can lead to on-the-ground changes. Keep asking the questions and before you know it, we will have integrated science and management.
3.     Seek. Find more ways to interact. Look for the science, and take the opportunity to collaborate. Join a field trip, watch a webinar, reach out to a manager or researchers. Get involved and stay involved.

This meeting was meant to ignite exchange. Meeting each other, making that first step, and putting ourselves out there to be questioned and criticized by each other is something that needed to happen.  Exposure was a driving goal for this meeting, and we do feel that more scientists and managers in our region are aware of ‘what’s out there’. However, there is much more work to do, and highlighting projects that have successfully incorporated scientists and managers already, with both parties contributing to the presentation and discussion, seems to be a logical next step. We have already read through many of the evaluation comments and are already thinking of new and better ways to continue our partnership and improve our coordination efforts.

Working with the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact was a breeze and the training and technology working teams and Tom Parent were the best partners we could hope for. NAFSE is honored to be a part of the Compact, and we don’t take it for granted. This meeting was part of a dream seeded several years ago. The North Atlantic doesn’t have the attention of the nation when it comes to fires, but we have the people: good, hard-working, experienced people who are managing lands and researching solutions. Thanks again everyone who attended, helped, and made this a successful event.


Acadia Recap: The Great Acadia Fire 70 Years Later

By Amanda Mahaffey
Photos by Amanda Mahaffey

On October 17, 1947, a fire started in Bar Harbor, Maine, that spread through the town and Acadia National Park. Meanwhile, wildfires sprang up across the drought-stricken Northeast, posing unprecedented challenges. Newspaper headlines blazed, winds shifted, and forests and towns burned while communities grappled with understanding and trying to control the wildfires. By the time the ash settled, the people affected knew that they must prepare in new ways for the next big one.

In October 2017, 70 years after the catastrophic fires, partner agencies and organizations came together to commemorate these historic events and share lessons learned about fire science and wildfire preparedness since the catastrophic 1947 fires. This series of events brought together folks from all sectors of the community. It was truly a partnership event, and the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange owes a huge thanks to the Maine Forest Service, Acadia National Park Fire Management Office, Bar Harbor Historical Society, the Mount Desert Island Fire Chiefs, all the speakers and participants, and the partnership between the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact and our own NAFSE organizers and community representatives.

This event was all kinds of awesome. On Monday, October 16, a scientific panel convened at the Schoodic Institute to address land manager preparedness under different climate scenarios. On Tuesday, October 17, Bar Harbor Fire Department hosted several tables of 1947 fire information and showcased antique historical firefighting equipment. Tuesday evening, the panel featured Lloyd Irland presenting on "What Happened" in the 1947 fire, Bill Patterson showing the data on "Could it Happen Again," and Tom Parent outlining "What if It Happened Again." These gentlemen were joined by four Mount Desert Island Fire Chiefs, plus Tony Davis from Acadia National Park and Jeff Currier from the Maine Forest Service Rangers who answered audience questions.

See below for presentation .pdf's and audio recordings of the presentations as well as the panel Q&A session audio recording:

Lloyd Irland's slides and audio (separate files)
Bill Patterson's slides and audio (separate files)
Tom Parent's slides and audio (separate files)
Panel Q&A audio

On Wednesday, October 18, we had an awesome field trip group, which included many Maine Forest Service Rangers and NAFSE community members who contributed to active and great conversation. Our bus tour traced the path of the 1947 fire, and at each stop, we talked about operations, fire behavior, changes since then, and the need for more public engagement in wildfire preparedness. Doctoral student Jess Charpentier and Professor Emeritus Dr. Bill Patterson III shared information on fire ecology research.

At the first stop, Lake Wood, participants learned that the pollen record shows that fire was part of this landscape. Every 100-200 years, a large fire or wind event would cause a shift in the tree species composition. Spruce-fir forest belongs in this landscape and should be so managed. Study plots could help resource managers and fire people work better together within the Park.

The group stopped at a vista near Dolliver’s Dump, the site of the 1947 Acadia fire ignition. Today, under the same conditions, the Maine Forest Service and partners would have been able to hold the fire to the first 160 acres (pre-blowup). Firefighting equipment and communications have improved, structural protections are better, and fire departments would be coordinated and better prepared. Additionally, forewarning and weather predictions would be much better, and we would plan tactics accordingly.

At the Eagle Lake stop, we learned how research documented the increase in downed trees and fuel load from 1980, 1992, to 2016. The fuel loads measured at this site are fairly consistent with those in parts of Mount Desert Island that escaped the 1947 fire. We were reminded to “prepare for the average worst.” You never know exactly where, when, and how bad a fire might break out, but you can prepare for a window of disaster based on the hazardous conditions.

From the top of Cadillac Mountain, the group enjoyed a vista of pitch pine stands that stand as a living testament to the fire history in Acadia National Park. Meanwhile, the wind and sweeping perspective helped the group picture how the fire traveled across the island 70 years earlier.

At the last stop, the Tarn, the group was shown more vegetation plots that illustrated where the fire burned through, the site yielded hardwood species, but also spruce regeneration. Spruce scorched (but not charred) during the 1947 fire retained cones, which later regenerated into the spruce understory that exists in this unburned stand today.

One of the coolest elements of the field trip was the fact that our weather was almost identical to the conditions of 70 years ago. When we stood at the Mount Desert Island high school and listened to a dramatic reading by Dave Crary of an account of the 1947 fire crowning and jumping the road, winds picked up out of the west, and it was easy to imagine what happened 70 years ago on that very spot. What an amazing experience to retrace the path of the Great Acadia Fire of 1947 with experts in the field! 

For more information about the 1947 fires, please visit

The field trip crew!

The field trip crew!

Albany Pine Bush: Fire and Fuels Monitoring Workshop

Written by Inga La Puma
Photos by Inga La Puma

I was super excited to attend the Fire and Fuels Monitoring workshop and the opportunity to visit a unique outlying pitch pine/scrub oak ecosystem in Albany, New York for the first time. About 40 other folks were heading up to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Discovery Center to make some serious headway on figuring out how to monitor fuels and fire effects. Little did we know we would be coming out of this meeting with a draft monitoring handbook for our region! I was in the New Jersey group along with several of my state colleagues and looking around I saw so many familiar faces from NAFSE activities we have hosted over the last two and a half years. What a great gathering of interested and passionate fire folks! Each table was a conglomeration of agencies and stakeholders, mainly from one state or region. In this way, all perspectives could be incorporated into designing a monitoring protocol for wildland fire and prescribed burns. 

First we heard from Neil Gifford on the efforts underway at Albany Pine Bush in relation to fire and the restoration of the Karner Blue butterfly populations and habitat. The Albany Pine Bush Commission has come such a long way in the face of extraordinary challenges set amongst this suburban interface. Next we heard from Brian Sterns with an overview of what metrics are available to measure for fire effects with a wrap-up from Nick Skowronski. The theme was that "no one method fits everyone" and tailoring our monitoring protocol to our management needs was the way to go. It was a little rainy, but we were still able to head out on the trail to familiarize ourselves with the local system. We would be expected to practice our monitoring techniques on this system, so it was good to get a feel for it. This was all before noon! 

Then, we went out to an area we used as a proxy for pre-burned conditions. Each group was assigned to try different monitoring practices in order to familiarize ourselves with the effort and technique for each. For example, our group did soil duff measurements along regular increments from plot center to 20ft out. We also measured scrub and tree height and recorded all of the species present in our plot. As we worked we realized how easily the sampling methods could get overbearing and un-workable for managers. The question then became, how could we get the information we needed for our region's specific needs with the most streamlined sampling techniques available?

The next morning, Mike Gallagher presented his Ph.D. work on evaluating burn severity using remote sensing and also introduced us to composite burn index (CBI) plots. The methodology of calibrating remotely sensed images to plot level data and extrapolating the information across the landscape seemed very appealing to many groups, and several incorporated it into their practice monitoring. We put the CBI protocol into practice with some minor adjustments next. We headed outside the building to plots that had been recently thinned and burned (still black!). What a difference! Measurements of plots went much faster but it was more difficult to identify species and live versus dead shrubs. We tried one more site in a thinned and burned stand where re-sprouts were plentiful. Utilizing our techniques on several different types of plots gave us perspective on what type of plots we wanted to sample and how we wanted to organize our long-term sampling efforts. For New Jersey, we thought about what kind of team it might take to sample some areas more intensively, especially those areas that demonstrate management goals such as fuel reduction and forest health.

We entered data, we evaluated pre- and post-burn results, and one person from each team presented our results to the other participants. It was similar to what a manager might need to do on their home turf to demonstrate the outcome of different prescribed fire and fuel treatments. Finally, we put together a draft monitoring protocol handbook with much help from an example handbook provided by Jack McGowan-Stinski of the Lake States Fire Science Consortium. Each group described what to do and how to do it to accomplish the management goals of their region and presented their work to the rest of the room. Workshop participants came away with a draft protocol for sampling and monitoring fire and fuel effects. Whether the protocol is used or not, we now have a quorum of fire managers in the North Atlantic Region who understand how and what to monitor after fire. I for one look forward to more workshops like this, with hands on learning and real results to further fire science in the North Atlantic.

A bonus of this trip was one of our last stops, where we got to see the Karner Blue butterfly in action on a restored area that had been thinned and burned and contained a healthy population of lupine. The lupine plant is where Karner Blues lay their eggs and is the exclusive food of Karner Blue butterfly caterpillars. Check out this amazing photo of the butterfly mating! You wouldn't know it, but these beautiful creatures aren't much bigger than your thumbnail!



Long Island Workshop Recap: Keeping the pine in the pine barrens

Written by Inga La Puma and Kathy Schwager
Photos by Inga La Puma

It was a rainy day for travel, but as speakers and participants from the region gathered on a Wednesday night in early May for an evening discussion with fire managers, it quickly became obvious that we were in for a treat. As a New Jersey wildland fire scientist, the Long Island pines had always intrigued me, and I was sincerely excited to finally see the area. It just seemed so weird to me that there would be a coastal plains pitch pine community ON LONG ISLAND. Just as Before I moved to NJ, I pictured it as an industrial area (it mostly isn't). Similarly, I had pictured Long Island as mostly developed; but here we were at Brookhaven National Lab surrounded by forest! It was quite a pleasant surprise. The main difference I noticed right away was that the trees here seemed smaller and closer together than our pinelands in NJ, at least near the highways.

The agenda began with an evening discussion panel which included Tim Kelly, Deputy Fire Chief at Brookhaven National Laboratory who is responsible for 5000 acres on the site with only 6 firefighters to assist him. Also present were Tom Gerber, Section Warden, NJ Forest Fire Service, who conducted prescribed fires on up to 5000 acres this year in the NJ pinelands as well as Alex Entrup, Senior Specialist, Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC, who used to burn with The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. Finally, Brian Gallagher, a NY state forest ranger for 18 years who is attempting to bring prescribed fire back to the island's forests.

There was an in-depth discussion of equipment and tactics for fighting fire in the pinelands effectively. I was fascinated by the stories of evolving communications between local fire departments and state and federal partners. The most recent fire on Brookhaven lands benefited greatly from an improved command structure compared to previous large fires. One of the more salient points that was made was this: the time to talk about health and safety of firefighters and the community is not DURING a fire, but now, when fire management plans and fuel reduction actions can be most effective. A local fire department chief noted that local fire chiefs do seem interested in gaining operational training for wildland fire since the Sunrise fire of 1995 and Brookhaven fire of 2012, but that these volunteer departments are already strapped for time and money. Having prescribed fire trainings on the weekends would help.

The next morning we were treated to several presentations designed to give context to wild and prescribed fire efforts in Long Island. Bill Patterson, Neil Gifford, and Tim Simmons provided the first set of talks and the morning panel, offering outside perspectives of the issues facing other pine barrens ecosystems in the Northeast in comparison to Long Island, including seasonality, habitat restoration, and dealing with the wildland-urban interface.

The Long Island pine barrens are under increasing attack by the southern pine beetle. We heard from Jack Nowak, a southern pine beetle and fire expert from Asheville who stressed the importance of spacing between pines and the role of prescribed fire. Ken Clark who studies the effects of southern pine beetle in the New Jersey Pinelands also spoke. Then all of the speakers got together at the front of the room along with locals John Pavacic, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission, and John Werner, of NY State Department of Conservation to answer questions and continue the discussion

Kathy Schwager, Brookhaven ecologist and Community Representative for NAFSE, started out the afternoon field trip with stops at local burn units as well as the 2012 Crescent Bow fire. She and her team are monitoring fuels after fire as well as infestations of orange-striped oak worm and gypsy moth attacks from the early 2000’s.  We visited one unit in particular where basal area had decreased to 70 ft. squared per acre, but live fuel loading had increased by over 400% due to the opening of the canopy. (Kathy and crew were able to burn this unit last month). Kathy also discussed the mesophication that they are documenting through their forest health monitoring.

Next, we visited the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Rocky Point Demonstration Forest adjacent to several communities and values at risk, where they are thinning, burning, or thinning and burning several plots. The management plan for these plots includes continued monitoring to determine the effects of reducing basal area and removing fuels to benefit forest health and prevent southern pine beetle invasion.

As a result of this workshop, increased coordination and communication has evolved in the area. Cooperators have burned almost 200 acres of grassland in the pine barrens this spring and have started conducting growing season burns in woodlands at Brookhaven Lab. These are the first woodland burns conducted on Long Island since 2008. The workshop was another example of how discussing research, visiting sites and promoting face to face social issues works! Finally getting to the Long Island pine barrens was everything I had hoped for, but my increased understanding of local research and communication was the real treat.


Field Trip Recap - History of fire management at Camp Edwards: Lessons, challenges, and future objectives

Field Trip Recap - History of fire management at Camp Edwards: Lessons, challenges, and future objectives

Contributed by Amanda Mahaffey
Photos by Amanda Mahaffey, Joel Carlson and Robert Wernerehl

On Thursday, January 29th, 2017, over 50 people gathered for a day-long introduction of fire management at Camp Edwards, the 15,000-acre Massachusetts Army National Guard land within the 22,000-acre Joint Base Cape Cod. This NAFSE field trip was hosted by Jake McCumber, Natural Resources and Integrated Training Area Management Program Manager for the Massachusetts Army National Guard in collaboration with Northeast Forest & Fire Management, LLC and the Massachusetts Coastal Pine Barrens Partnership. The participants included fire managers, Americorps members, foresters, wildlife biologists, botanists, and conservation professionals. The diversity of ages, agencies and organizations, and experiences with fire on the Cape enriched the quality of conversations throughout the day.

The field tour stops provided a snapshot of the history and ongoing management at Camp Edwards and included managed grasslands, an observation point, a wildfire, an active firing range, recent mechanical and burn treatments, and a frost bottom. The overarching land management objectives at Camp Edwards are to (1) reduce fire hazard; (2) improve training lands; and (3) promote wildlife habitat and species diversity. A central management challenge at Camp Edwards is the 3,000-acre impact area, a portion of the base riddled with unexploded ordnance with a history of munitions-caused wildfires. The Base also contains and abuts significant WUI areas. Every managed acre at Camp Edwards embodies the human decisions made in an attempt to balance these three objectives and primary challenges.

After a brief welcome and site orientation, the field trip participants loaded into a bus and vans. The morning would provide an overview of fire history and management at Camp Edwards. The bus paused in the midst of former barracks and parade grounds now managed as native grassland through fire (including firefighter training), mowing, and herbicide to benefit many wildlife species, including several with populations in decline (Stop 1). Next, the group visited an observation point atop a glacial esker that under clear skies, offers a vista of the managed pinelands, the impact area, and the WUI beyond (Stop 2).

Stop 2, Observation point

Stop 2, Observation point

The group was walked the road at the Infantry Battle Course Range (Stop 3), an area that once received intensive training use but now is managed for early successional species such as New England cottontail. A rare lightning-caused fire spread during the growing season (July) in 2016. The group discussed the spread of the fire, the tactics and coordination of massive resources used to manage and contain it, the fire behavior exhibited, and the lessons learned from this unusual occurrence. Because of the hazard of unexploded munitions in the impact area, the fire was allowed to grow to 120 acres over three days, bounded by safe fire breaks. The fire was described as almost a drought, duff-driven fire and smoldered for a couple of weeks. All agreed that the picture would have been significantly different - bigger and more dangerous - had the lightning strikes occurred during the spring.

Stop 3, Walking the road.

Stop 3, Walking the road.

The next stop took the group to Sierra Range (Stop 4), an active firing range surrounded by pitch pine-scrub oak woodlands and shrubland. Here, the group explored the contrast in fire effects produced in two adjacent units under different burn conditions.