FPL’s Fire Safety Team Recognized: FPL's Length of Service Ceremony Remembers this Special Recognition

Following up on yesterday’s post about fire safety, Lab Notes is pleased to announce a special recognition award mentioned at FPL’s length of service award ceremony today.

FPL’s Fire Safety team in FPL’s Durability and Wood Protection Research unit was recognized by the Greater Madison Federal Agency Association (GMFAA) for building effective relationships in and out of the Forest Service. Team members include Robert White (deceased), Mark Dietenberger, Laura Hasburgh, Keith Bourne, and Charles Boardman. The team endured losses over the past few years: reductions in staff and research funding, disruption to research from decommissioned facilities, and most importantly, the recent, sudden loss of their group’s leader, Robert White.


Dr. Robert White died peacefully on March 19, 2014, while at work.

Through all this adversity, the team has been productive, including contributing to codes and standards and software programs that predict residential fire damage. Many thanks to this team of researchers who work hard to keep the public safer.

All Hands on Deck to Lessen Wildland Fire Damage

Because wildland fires pose a significant societal threat, it is important to understand how to mitigate their damage. Lives and structures are at risk, particularly in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), where homes are constructed near or among areas prone to these fires.

Testing decking materials in FPL's Fire Test Lab.

Testing decking materials in FPL’s Fire Test Lab.

The Forest Products Laboratory’s Mark Dietenberger, a research general engineer, and Laura Hasburgh, a fire protection engineer, are studying a common scenario that results in property loss due to these fires in the WUI: ignition of attached wood decks.

A recently posted Research in Progress summary titled Fire Performance of Exterior Wood Decks in Wildland-Urban Interface explains how FPL and the American Wood Council (AWC) are working together to provide mitigation strategies that will reduce wildfire threats to structures and therefore preserve the marketability of wood decks.

The objectives of the research are threefold:

  • provide the AWC with a technical assessment of the fire performance of decking when subjected to relevant fire exposure
  • assess the related fire test methodologies using state-of-the-art flammability facilities
  • identify options for policy decisions pertaining to prescriptive regulations

This project began in January 2014 and will continue for three years, with an annual report compiled each July.

Woody Biomass Utilization Grant program a success

The Ecosystem Workforce Program at the University of Oregon announced the release of a new report. The Impacts of the Woody Biomass Utilization Grant Program in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Arizona evaluates the value of the USDA Forest Service’s Woody Biomass Utilization Grant program in eastern Oregon and eastern Arizona. These areas, according to the University of Oregon, “have extensive public lands, high wildfire risk, and limited biomass businesses.”

Even small investments in woody biomass utilization can have substantial impacts.

Even small investments in woody biomass utilization can have substantial impacts.

The authors (Emily Jane Davis, Anne Mottek Lucas, Yeon-Su Kim, Cassandra Moseley, Max Nielsen-Pincus, and Ted Bilek) analyzed the program’s effects on enterprise and industry capacity, state economies, and acres treated and green tons removed. According to the report released today, “This relatively small ($5 million authorized nationwide annually) program’s most clear accomplishments were its significant contributions to regional biomass processing capacity, which occurred despite challenging market and economic conditions.”

They concluded, “Given the complexities of public land management and associated business development, strategies such as the Woody Biomass Utilization Grant program are critical to increasing biomass utilization, but are likely to achieve greater outcomes when incorporated with other tools to improve federal agency and stakeholder capacity, active land management, and long-term industry sustainability.”

In 2013 the U.S. Forest Service awarded nearly $2.5 million in grants to 10 small businesses and community groups across the United States. Administered by the FPL Forest Products Marketing Unit, the biomass utilization grants support renewable wood-to-energy projects and expand regional economies through rural development and job creation.

Forest Restoration: The Best Defense Against Wildfires

As wildfires rage across the western United States, firefighting crews work tirelessly to contain the blazes while costs to control the fires skyrocket. During these tough times, which now seem to occur without fail year after year, it becomes increasingly evident that our nation’s forests are in dire need of extensive restoration.wildfire2

A recent Forest Service article explains that properly managed forests – those free of underbrush and ladder fuels – serve as the best defense against the ravaging effects of wildfire, especially in an era of longer and more severe fire seasons associated with climate change.

Accelerated forest restoration activities promote forest health and reduce wildfire intensity by removing hazardous fuels.

FPL research demonstrates that low-value materials thinned from overgrown forests can be converted into products such as biocomposites, engineered wood products, bioenergy feedstocks, and cellulosic nanomaterials. The high value of these advanced materials can help offset the cost of restoration activities and promote economic growth.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has made accelerated restoration a cornerstone of his priorities during his tenure.

“Accelerated restoration efforts demonstrate a shared vision where environmentalists, forest industry and local communities are working together to build healthier forests and contribute to local economies,” said Tidwell. “The increased restoration work will benefit the environment and people, with more resilient ecosystems, improved watersheds and wildlife habitat, hazardous fuel reduction, and outputs of forest products. We hope accelerated restoration activities will bring all of our partners together, working as allies for forest conservation.”

Capabilities and Challenges of Wildfire Response FS Chief Testifies Before Senate Committee

U.S. Forest Service capabilities and challenges in the face of increasingly extreme wildfires were the focus of Chief Tom Tidwell’s recent statement before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year as compared to 40 years ago. Last year, the fires were massive in size, coinciding with increased temperatures and early snow melt in the West,” said Tidwell. “The largest issue we now face is how to adapt our management to anticipate climate change impacts and to mitigate their potential effects.”

The Forest Service estimates a total of almost 400 million acres of all vegetated lands are at moderate to high risk from uncharacteristically large wildfires. (Credit: www.shutterstock.com)

Nearly 400 million acres are at moderate to high risk from uncharacteristically large wildfires. (Photo: www.shutterstock.com)

Tidwell highlighted the development of a National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which focuses on restoring fire-adapted ecosystems, building fire-adapted human communities, and responding appropriately to wildfire.

The Chief spoke about the impact of increased fire suppression costs, now nearly half of the entire Forest Service budget, as well as the Agency’s ability to protect life, property, and natural resources in the face of continuing budget challenges.

The Forest Service’s ecosystem restoration projects were also addressed, including the Woody Biomass Utilization Grant program, which has contributed to the treatment of over 500,000 acres and removed and used nearly 5 million green tons of biomass at an average cost of just $66 per acre. The grant program is administered through FPL’s Technology Marketing Unit.

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