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Weather observations key to forest and heathland fire management

12 November 2010

Accurate weather observations are essential for the safe management of both prescribed and naturally-ignited forest and heath-land fires.

Precise measurement of wind speed, wind direction, temperature, relative humidity, dew point, and precipitation provide reliable assessments of current conditions and allow for better weather forecasts, and more reliable fire behaviour forecasts.

The importance of timely and precise measurements cannot be overstated, as weather conditions directly affect fire and smoke behaviour, fuel condition and flammability, and ultimately, the safety of fire-fighters and the public.

Kevin Osborne, a masters degree candidate in forestry sciences at California Polytechnic State University, is a fire-fighter at the Wildland Fire Module (WFM) in Californias' Sequoia National Forest. The Sequoia WFM crew specialises in monitoring and managing prescribed and naturally-ignited fires, and is trained to contain wildfires.

Kevin was on the scene at the summers Sheep Fire, which was ignited by lightning on July 16. The fire spread into Sequoia National Forest, and eventually was contained along its western flank. As part of fire management best practice, the Sequoia WFM used a research-grade HOBO Weather Station to collect hourly weather parameter readings. Data was offloaded daily, graphed using HOBOware software, and reviewed during morning briefings to inform crews of the latest weather trends.

kevin reported that during an evening burnout operation held to contain the fire the weather station was re-set to take readings every half hour as darkness had made it difficult to use traditional methods. He explained that during increased risk operations having frequent weather readings is important to keep informed of temperature, humidity, and wind characteristic changes which might impact fire-fighter safety. As each half hour reading was offloaded, it was read over the tactical radio frequency so that fire-fighters were aware of changing weather conditions."

Although data was primarily used at morning observational briefings, Fire Behaviour Analysts are able to use weather data as inputs to future fire modelling exercises. In this way, HOBO Weather Station and Data Logger information can contribute even more to the increased understanding and knowledge of fire behaviour, thereby further enhancing public and fire-fighting safety.

In the UK, Tempcon Instrumentation offer the full range of HOBO Weather Station and Data Logging
products measuring and recording, Temperature, Humidity, Air Speed & Direction, Water
Temperature & Pressure for applications in buildings, environment, rivers, lakes, food, and industry.

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