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Valuable fire data

There is no smoking gun — pardon the expression — in the findings of a new study comparing tree species’ propensity to produce flying embers. But there is new data that can help researchers predict how fires behave, help fire managers tailor their response to wildfires and guide prescribed burning and forest restoration.

The most interesting result of a new study detailed in Sunday’s Mail Tribune is that Douglas firs produced slightly more embers than ponderosa pines, and those embers were more than twice as likely to leave char marks when they landed, indicating a greater likelihood of igniting spot fires. That’s important because embers can travel more than a mile, and because Douglas firs are replacing pines in Southern Oregon forests.

Pines are more drought- and heat-tolerant than firs, and benefit from frequent, low-severity fire. When those fires are suppressed and fuels build up, firs thrive in the shade and replace the pines.

A U.S. Forest Service ecologist was quick to say the study shouldn’t be interpreted as a reason to eradicate Douglas fir. But in hotter, drier locations such as ridge tops and south-facing slopes, it can make more sense to thin firs and leave pines.

This study, conducted by Oregon State University and the Forest Service, is another piece of the puzzle of how to address wildfire in our region. It doesn’t present a magic solution, but it’s another tool for forest managers looking for guidance in designing restoration projects and planning firefighting strategies.