Research offers insight into past-and future-of west-side wildfires

A.D. By 2020, Labor Day fires will burn more than 300,000 acres[300,000 ha]in parts of western Oregon and parts of Washington, destroying communities and drawing attention to fires in the west. A new study by the USDA’s Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Center examines the context of the fire and provides insight into the historical role of large, high-intensity fires west of Cascades and the future of wildfires.

“Undoubtedly, the 2020 Labor Day fire was a significant fire in many respects, and it was a wake-up call for the region,” said Matthew Riley, a published forest researcher and leader. Ecosphere magazine. “The purpose of our study is to help us understand how this event compares to previous Western fires, and to inform us of adaptive strategies aimed at preventing or mitigating similar incidents in the future.”

Based on literature review, extensive historical data and new analysis, Rayly and his collaborators explore five questions about 2020 Labor Day fires. Impact on the severity of the fire, the impact of these fires on the western landscape and what needs to be done to deal with similar fires in the future. Finally, The fires of 2020 are surprisingly similar to the historical fires in the west, due to their rapid expansion in time, size, and speed – combined with strong east winds.

“Our findings suggest that these fires are more common in the West-West landscape over a longer period of time,” he said. In fact, the researchers identified similar large historical fires in the early 20th centuryTh Century in the same climate — some even burning around Labor Day — in some of the same areas burned by 2020.

Due to the characteristics of rich and productive forests in the West and the role of strong winds driving, conventional fire control equipment used in arid forests, such as manual combustion and fuel management, will be less effective than in Western forests. On the east side. This is especially true of fires during the 2020 fires, which were found to be extremely severe.

“Our study shows that we need very different approaches and adaptation strategies in the western forest compared to what we use in dry forests,” Riley said.

The study was conducted as part of an ongoing West-West Fire Research Initiative at the Pacific Northwest Research Center, which began developing science-based tools in 2019, in response to resource managers responding to wildfires in the West Coast. The study is coordinated by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the University of Washington, Oregon State University, and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest.


  • The 2020 Labor Day fires were the biggest and heaviest on the recent record, but they were surprisingly consistent with many historical fires. Strong eastern winds and dry conditions are common features in both major historical fires and by 2020 fires.
  • Forest management and fuel treatments cannot affect the severity of fires in extreme wind fires such as 2020 Labor Day fires. During the 2020 fires when the east wind was strong, the pre-fire forest structure had little effect on the fire as a result of previous forest management activities.
  • Fuel treatments around homes and infrastructure can still be useful in low- and medium-temperature conditions.
  • Strategies for similar fires in West-West communities can instead focus on fire prevention, fire suppression, and community preparedness.
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