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.

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!

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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Joint Fire Science Governing Board: Field trip to the NJ pinelands

NAFSE was privileged to host the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) Governing Board (the folks that decide whether to fund our Exchange activities) for a science and management field trip on Oct 19th, 2016 in the New Jersey Pinelands. The warmer than normal fall day began at Stockton Seaview Inn as we gathered to explain how the day would proceed, focusing on JFSP funded projects in the morning and management applications in the afternoon. We then boarded shuttle buses for our excellent field tour of areas in the pinelands used for fire science research and management activities. NAFSE leadership would like to thank all of the scientists, managers, and community representatives who spoke to the Governing Board about their important work in New Jersey and beyond. Each speaker's handouts are linked in the agenda below along with a few videos of take home messages recorded during the wrap-up session. Also, don't forget to check out the virtual field trip with contributed photos for each stop (thanks to Karen Prentice, Maris Gabliks, Amanda Mahaffey and Inga La Puma for photos).

Overall, the trip went well and although the NAFSE leadership team came home with a few chigger bites, we hope our guests did not!

New Jersey Field Trip Agenda – 10/19/16

8:00     Field trip overview: Stockton Seaview - Fire History Map of Field Trip Area >
Introduction - Dr. Nick Skowronski, USDA Forest Service, NRS, NAFSE
Welcome Stockton University – Dr. George Zimmermann, Stockton University
Field trip logistics- Dr. Nick Skowronski

8:30     Depart for Stop 1 – Mini-buses
9:00     Field Stop 1: Penn State Forest
9:05 Walking Stop A:
Pinelands Fire Ecology – Dr. George Zimmermann, Stockton University - Handout.pdf>
Historical Perspectives - Tom Gerber, Section Firewarden NJFFS and private landowner
Penn State Forest and 2016 RxB - Shawn Judy, Assistant Division Firewarden, NJFFS

9:50 Walking Stop B and C:
Evaluation and Optimization of Fuel Treatment Effectiveness with an Integrated Experimental/Modeling Approach. JFSP Project: 12-1-03-11

o   Overview and three-dimensional fuel consumption - Skowronski - Handout.pdf>

o   New measurement tools – Bob Kremens, Rochester Institute of Technology - Handout.pdf>

o   Fire Environment and WFDS modeling – Eric Mueller, University of Edinburgh - Handout.pdf>

Measurement of firebrands generated during fires in pine-dominated ecosystems in relation to fire behavior and intensity. JFSP Project: 15-1-04-55

o   Overview and preliminary results – Dr. Rory Hadden, PI, University of Edinburgh - Handout.pdf>

o   SERDP project integration – Dr. Albert Simeoni - Handout.pdf>

10:45 Walk back to bus
10:55   Depart for Stop 2 (30 min.)
11:25   Field stop 2: Cedar Bridge (Flux tower)

Station 1 Flux Tower
USFS Fire Weather Research - Flux tower

o   Tower Network - Dr. Kenneth Clark, USFS NRS - Handout.pdf>

o   Meso-scale modeling - Dr. Jay Charney

Station 2 Plow Line
Development of Modeling Tools for Predicting Smoke Dispersion from Low-Intensity Fires. JFSP Project: 09-1-04-1

o   Field Component - Dr. John Hom, USFS NRS - Handout.pdf>

o   ARPS modeling - Dr. Warren Heilman, PI, USFS NRS - Handout.pdf>

Station 3 Fire Tower

12:25 Depart for Coyle
12:30   Lunch: Coyle field
12:30-12:50 Eat (BOY)

NJFFS Welcome –Bill Edwards, NJFFS
NAFSE overview and partnerships - Dr. Inga La Puma, NAFSE - Notes.pdf>

1:30     Depart for Stop 3
1:50     Stop 3: Whiting
WUI Issues and community response - Greg McLaughlin,

Firescapes in the mid-Atlantic: Mismatches between social perceptions and prescribed fire use. JFSP Project 16-1-02-05

o   Overview Dr. Erica Smithwick, PI, Penn State University - Handout.pdf>

The Whiting community fuels project - Bill Zipse, Regional Forester, NJ Forest Service - Handout.pdf>

 2:45     Wrap-up
Field trip report out and discussion - Amanda Mahaffey, Forest Stewards Guild NE Regional Director

Videos of take home messages: