Fire on the Base


Fire line at Eglin Air Force Base prescribed burn. Photo by Joe O’Brien

DOD and Joint Fire Science Fund SRS Research at Eglin Air Force Base

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) recently awarded the Southern Research Station (SRS) Center for Forest Disturbance Science (CFDS) $2 million for a 5-year project with researchers from the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Joe O’Brien, CFDS research ecologist, acted as principal investigator for the DOD Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) grant proposal to monitor plant diversity in relation to frequent prescribed burning in longleaf pine stands on the Eglin Air Force Base located in the Florida panhandle near the town of Niceville.

Project researchers will explore the best ways to measure and monitor biological diversity while trying to explain the connection between frequent fire and high plant diversity in longleaf pine ecosystems. The work will couple a series of field experiments with data mining—looking for patterns and new knowledge in existing datasets—to develop tools DOD managers can use to monitor the effects of management activities such as prescribed burning on the understory plants of the longleaf forests on their bases.

Instruments used to measure fire behavior at Eglin Air Force Base. Photo by Joe O’Brien.

“We’re excited about this project because it gives us the chance to both test ecological theory and generate useful tools for managing longleaf and other frequently burned ecosystems,” says O’Brien. “It’s also great because I get to work with a group of people who are leaders in their respective fields and have the skills that allow us to examine fire effects across different plant types at scales from square millimeters to kilometers.”

O’Brien was co-principal investigator on the proposal for the $1.8 Joint Fire Science Program grant thats funding work at Eglin Air Force Base with the Prescribed Fire Combustion and Atmospheric Dynamics Research Experiment (RxCADRE) team, a group of collaborators from across the United States—from Forest Service Research Stations, universities and other federal agencies–who pool their resources to overcome the difficulties and share the expenses of collecting scientific data while setting  prescribed fires. The RxCADRE team previously tested and refined their methods on seven large prescribed fires they set at Eglin Air Force Base and the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center.

For the latest grant, RxCADRE will set a series of research burns this fall to feed information into a comprehensive dataset on fuels, fire behavior, and smoke. “There’s so much we still don’t understand about the complex interactions among fire and atmosphere,” says Scott Goodrick, CFDS project leader also involved in the RxCADRE experiments. “In the fall burns, we’ll be able to study these interactions on burns that range from 100 to 2500 acres using the instruments and people available through the RxCADRE team.”

The datasets produced will be used to validate and refine current fuel, fire, and smoke behavior models and will be housed in a publicly available repository to guide future model development and validation.

For this project, O’Brien and Goodrick join a team led by Roger Ottmar of the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and Kevin Hiers from the Eglin Air Force Base and other team members from the Forest Service Rocky Mountain and Northern Research Stations, and San Jose University