Fire Stories - Understanding Wildland Fire Fighters’ Perception of Unpredictable and Extreme Fire Behavior

By Pau Costa Foundation on

Authors: Tamara Wall, Tim Brown, and Nick Nauslar, Desert Research Institute


This project evolved from fire manager concerns that fire behavior during the previous three decades has started to exceed historical parameters and is becoming more extreme. This final report details the results from the first part of the project aimed at understanding wildland firefighter’s perceptions of  extreme fire behavior and identifying if these perceptions have changed through time. Between July 2014 and June 2015, we collected 227 narratives from firefighters in the United States about their experiences with what they felt was “unexpected, challenging, or unusual” fire behavior. These stories were collected primarily from students attending fire behavior courses (such as S490), but also at fire camps and individual units, such as district offices and field crews. While this is not a statistically significant sample size, the stories cover a broad cross section of experience levels in wildland firefighters. This report is intended to capture firefighter’s experiences with what they perceived as unexpected, challenging, or unusual fire behavior. The findings and observations in this report are not definitive answers, but are meant to be discussed with the intention of supporting the fire management community in understanding how unusual, challenging, and unexpected fire behavior impacts wildland firefighters. Guiding questions for this project were:
1. What types of fire behavior do wildland firefighters think of as
unusual, challenging, or unexpected?
2. Are firefighters being surprised by this fire behavior?
3. What are the common patterns/themes in these stories?
In the following report, there is an executive summary of key findingsand observations. This is followed by a brief overview of the study design, how data was collected, and then analyzed for this project. The next section focuses on presenting an overview of the data followed by a more detailed presentation of observed patterns in the data. The final section concludes the report and offers a brief set of recommendations for further inquiry based on observations and interpretations from the dataset.

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