One of the most exciting components of working with the Forest Service last week was the opportunity to take part in fire science activities. Through hands-on demonstrations and discussions led by the Forest Service employees, we were able to see first hand how wild land fires effect our land and even how fire fighters use fire as tool to protect our homes and property.
Fire science is the study of fire protection, the nature of fires, and firefighting techniques. Wildfires, industrial fires, and even controlled fires that go awry all fall under the umbrella of fire science and it provides worthwhile information on how to confine, control, and extinguish the flames.
As a part of our forest ecology lessons, the Forest Service led a discussion on fire science – including fire safety, fire fighting tools, prescribed burns, and defensible space.
The Forest Service has managed wild land fire for more than 100 years. But how they do it – why, when, and where they do it – has changed. For decades, the forest service has fought fire. First with hand tools and strong backs, then with aircraft and engines, they engaged fire in the wildlands and put it out. They became good at it, among the best in the world.
Science has changed the way we think about wild land fire and the way we manage it. We now know that wild land fire is an essential, natural process. Land management agencies are committed to a balanced fire program that will reduce risks and realize benefits of fire. They still fight it, especially to protect communities and the resources people need—but they also use it to make forests and grasslands healthier and to protect communities and natural resources.
The most impressive component of the lesson was the four burn stations whereby the kids played the role of fire marshals (equipped with safety glasses and a water bottle to extinguish the fire). At each station, a Forest Service employee had set up different models of forest stands with matches representing trees (flat ground with a fire break, unmanaged forest stand on a slope, forest stand on a slope with selective thinning, etc.). He then lit one match and we observed how the different factors (stage of succession, density, slope, wind, etc.) affected the intensity and speed of the fire.
Forest Service Resources
I encourage you to reach out to your local Forest Service office to inquire about what programs they have available in your area. In addition to Junior Ranger programs (Forest Ranger, Snow Ranger, etc.) and interpretive services, they provide a wealth of other services.
The Forest Service has been providing ranger talks, summer field work experiences, and educational programs such as Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl for many years. One of the newer programs they have developed is the Natural Inquirer, a science journal wherein scientists share their research specifically with middle school students.
The Forest Service has also developed a great website specifically for elementary and middle level students called Nature Watch. Our 190 million acres of National Forest Lands offer thousands of Nature Watch Viewing Sites across the country. This website serves to connect young learners with these nature viewing and service learning opportunities. Engaging in nature watching activities leads to greater personal connection to the environment and the natural resources we all share.