Assessing Alaska Fire Indices for Daily to Seasonal Wildfire Prediction Under Present and Future Climate Scenarios

Oct 2017 to Sep 2018

In Alaska, increased wildfire activity has been linked to warming temperatures. Summers with extreme wildfire activity threaten life and property, clog the air with smoke, and challenge the state’s wildland firefighters. While the largest fires are often started by lightning and burn in remote areas, these fires require significant resources to fight when they threaten life and property.
Increased wildfire activity is projected to continue in Alaska, as climate conditions change. Therefore, understanding how to best calculate fire risk based on short and long-term weather conditions is needed to improve fire season forecasts. Currently, Alaska’s fire managers rely on the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index to monitor and forecast fire danger. Several other indices also exist, but have not been fully assessed to determine their usability in Alaska. The goal of this project is to understand which index best forecasts wildfires in Alaska. Researchers will then use these indices to project future seasonal trends in wildfire over the next century.
This project will support Alaska’s fire managers in better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of existing fire weather indices and how fire danger may change under future climate projections. This research is critical not only for short-term fire weather forecasting, but also to better understand how these models will perform under changing climate conditions. Researchers will work directly with the people who manage and forecast wildfires in Alaska, to ensure that their research can inform direct action and helps to improve forecasting and decision-making. Improvements to fire season forecasting will enable fire managers to more effectively plan for upcoming fire seasons and better allocate limited funds and firefighting resources. With Alaska’s climate warming at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S., it is imperative that we improve our understanding of fire danger indices and how they may change in the future.