Fire is a fact of life on a military installation. Significant training time is lost due to wildfires, yet training (as well as testing) activities themselves are a significant ignition source. The military Services spend millions of dollars annually on claims, asset loss, and suppression activities due to wildfire. Fire also plays a vital role in the ecology of fire-adapted ecosystems and, due mostly to the introduction of non-native invasive species, in non-fire-adapted ecosystems. Currently, prescribed fire is the primary tool by which Department of Defense (DoD) installations mitigate wildfire risk, manage fire-adapted ecosystems and their associated listed and at-risk species, and provide safe and realistic training environments. DoD annually conducts more prescribed burning (about 600,000 acres total) than any Federal agency other than the U.S. Forest Service. Finally, depending on the conditions under which it occurs, fire also can contribute to both air quality and carbon management concerns.

To help guide future investments in research and demonstration and to better coordinate fire-science research across agencies, the SERDP and ESTCP Resource Conservation and Climate Change (RC) Program Area has developed a Fire Science Strategy that will provide a framework for advancing solutions to current and future fire-associated natural resource management challenges faced by DoD managers.

The premise of the SERDP and ESTCP Fire Science Strategy is that current fire science is not capturing the fundamental core issues that support understanding fire behavior and enabling the development of ecosystem-based and air quality management models that rely on an understanding of such behavior. Although DoD must ensure that its unique management needs will direct its own science, the overall strategy will best be served by a coordinated approach with other agency leaders in the field.

Fire is an extremely complex physical process. An aggressive fire research and development effort has been ongoing for more than 50 years, which has led to improved understanding of fire behavior and fire effects. Still, important research gaps remain to be addressed relative to fire behavior and its consequences for the use of fire as a management tool and in particular for the types of ecosystems that DoD manages. As a result, the Fire Science Strategy first develops a conceptual model as a basis for identifying future priority research and demonstration investments relevant to DoD ecosystem, air quality, and carbon management needs, with an explicit emphasis on the role of fire behavior. In addition to fire behavior, the conceptual model captures SERDP and ESTCP’s vision for future work as embodied by four additional core areas of fire science: (1) ecological effects of fire, (2) carbon accounting, (3) emissions characterization, and (4) fire plume dispersion. These four areas are tightly coupled to fire behavior and represent end points of potential management or regulatory concern to DoD.

The strategy concludes with a synthesis section that highlights priority research and demonstration needs across the five core areas. For SERDP and ESTCP, research and demonstration priorities always must be based on addressing science needs that are relevant to DoD’s ability to meet its military mission and stewardship requirements. Given that SERDP and ESTCP are not the primary funders of fire-related science in the United States, future leveraging of the efforts of those entities whose primary mission is fire science is critical.

For more information, including details about already completed and ongoing fire-science-related work funded by SERDP and ESTCP, please see the Air Quality sub-area and the related Tools and Training page.