Wildfire management and forecasting fire potential: The roles of climate information and social networks in the Southwest United States

Gigi Owen, Jonathan D. McLeod, Crystal A. Kolden, Daniel B. Ferguson, Timothy J. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Continuing progress in the fields of meteorology, climatology, and fire ecology has enabled more proactive and risk-tolerant wildland fire management practices in the United States. Recent institutional changes have also facilitated the incorporation of more advanced climate and weather research into wildland fire management. One of the most significant changes was the creation of Predictive Services in 1998, a federal interagency group composed, in part, of meteorologists who create climate- and weather-based fire outlooks tailored to fire manager needs. Despite the numerous forecast products now available to fire managers, few studies have examined how these products have affected their practices. In this paper the authors assess how fire managers in the Southwest region of the United States perceive and incorporate different types of information into their management practices. A social network analysis demonstrates that meteorologists have become central figures in disseminating information in the regional interagency fire management network. Interviews and survey data indicate that person-to-person communication during planning phases prior to the primary fire season is key to Predictive Services' success in supporting fire managers' decision making. Over several months leading up to the fire season, predictive forecasts based on complex climate, fuels, and fire-risk models are explained to fire managers and updated through frequent communication. The study's findings suggest that a significant benefit of the information sharing process is the dialogue it fosters among fire managers, locally, regionally, and nationally, which better prepares them to cooperate and strategically plan for the fire season.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-102
Number of pages13
JournalWeather, Climate, and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science


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