You are here

Focus Areas

The Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program (FFS), one of eight research programs in the Rocky Mountain Research Station, is based at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. The Program has a national charter to conduct fundamental and applied research relating to wildland fire processes, terrestrial and atmospheric effects of fire, and ecological adaptations to fire. In addition, the Program develops associated tools and applications for scientists and managers. The scope of work addresses all stages of wildland fire, including the pre-fire environment; combustion and fire behavior processes; immediate (first-order) fire effects; and longer-term (second-order) fire effects.

The Program is organized within six focus areas:

Physical Fire Processes

The factors that determine fire behavior (fuel, weather, and topography) do so through the requirements for combustion (fuel, heat, and oxygen). Researchers are examining fire at its most basic level to improve understanding of:

  • the fundamental physics of fire spread
  • how live and dead fuels ignite and burn
  • the physical structure of flames
  • effects of topography on fire weather


Fuel Dynamics

Research on fuel dynamics helps managers describe live and dead fuels that burn during wildland fires. Improved information about fuels, including their patterns of change over space and time, is used to:
  • predict seasonal and multi-year changes
  • improve assessment of fire hazard
  • improve understanding of live fuel moisture and the impact of insects on live fuel
  • produce more accurate predictions of fire behavior and fire effects


Smoke Emissions & Dispersion

Scientists use field observations, satellite data, and models to describe smoke’s chemical composition, its movement within a fire’s heat plume, and its movement through the layers of the atmosphere. This research helps to:

  • better understand smoke movement from fires and potential impacts
  • improve estimates of carbon movement around the globe
  • develop and validate improved combustion emission models


Fire Ecology

This research contributes to improved conservation, restoration of burned areas, and reduction of fire hazard. Field and laboratory studies in fire ecology provide insights into:

  • effects of fire on plants and plant communities
  • alteration of ecosystem carbon and nutrient flow by fire
  • climate and fire interactions, both in the past and in the future


Fire & Fuel Management Strategies

Historical patterns of wildland fire are combined with information about climate and vegetation to predict fire occurrence and vegetation patterns. This research helps to:
  • increase the ability of forests to respond to disturbance and climate change
  • reduce unplanned losses of forest cover and stored carbon to fire, insects, and disease
  • improve understanding of wildland fire occurrence, severity, and future potential

Science Synthesis & Delivery

Scientific publications form the foundation for science delivery. Synthesis of past research and integration of knowledge build on this foundation through:
  • journal articles and technical reports
  • syntheses of information on fire effects and fire regime characteristics
  • applications and computer programs
  • development and training for managers
  • presentations, classes, and educational programs
Modified: Jun 24, 2020