The need for fundamental wildfire behavior research in the context of the 2020 fire season in the Western U.S

By Pau Costa Foundation

8 February 2021
Wildfire awareness


Every year, wildland fires seem to be more unpredictable, causing losses of both lives and property. The 2020 fire season in the Western U.S. was a prime example. Without a better understanding of the detailed mechanisms and underlying physical processes of wildland fire spread, our ability to predict, mitigate, and safely fight these fires will not advance. This webinar will start by outlining and explaining this need for fundamental fire behavior research, using the 2020 fires in the Western U.S. as examples. A general overview of the research approach in use by the team at the Missoula Fire Sciences lab will be given. Brief discussions of current and on-going laboratory-based experiments into heat transfer to unburnt fuels, ignition, and the burning rate of fuel beds will follow, including important findings and challenges.


Sara McAllister earned her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 2008 from the University of California, Berkeley. Her Ph.D. dissertation, sponsored by NASA, focused on material flammability in spacecraft. Since 2009, she has been a Research Mechanical Engineer with the U.S. Forest Service at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. As part of the National Fire Decision Support Center, Sara’s research focuses on the fundamental governing mechanisms of wildland fire spread. Specifically, her research includes understanding the critical conditions for solid fuel ignition, flammability of live forest fuels, ignition due to convective heating, and fuel bed property effects on burning rate. She has authored a textbook on combustion fundamentals and over 80 peer-reviewed publications and conference papers. In her spare time, Sara enjoys cycling, running, and racing in triathlons

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