The Oklahoma State University Web site OK-FIRE has caught on and is spreading rapidly throughout Oklahoma, providing much-needed information on a variety of fire-related topics.
OK-FIRE began in 2005 with a three-year $321,000 grant from the Joint Fire Science Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior, to be used in conjunction with the Oklahoma Mesonet, the state’s 120 automated weather station network.
Due to the early success of OK-FIRE, the grant was extended and will expire later this year. OK-FIRE will remain, however, a continuing program of the Oklahoma Mesonet given sufficient state support.
Originally password-protected since its debut in October 2006 and limited to select user groups, the OK-FIRE Web site  was opened to the public last summer in hopes of reaching increased numbers of wildland fire managers – and it has worked.
There were approximately 840,000 hits on the OK-FIRE Web site in all of 2007, compared to more than a million hits per month over the past few months.
With an average of 2.5 million acres of wildlands burned through either prescribed burns or wildfire, the OK-FIRE program is critical to Oklahoma, said J.D. Carlson, principal investigator on the OK-FIRE grant and fire meteorologist with OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
“We’ve been wanting to have this program for a long time,” Carlson said. “OK-FIRE provides a multitude of decision-support tools for wildland fire managers throughout the state.”
The program has a threefold emphasis: a comprehensive suite of recent, current and forecast products for fire weather, fire danger and smoke dispersion; a dedicated Web site to act as the delivery mechanism; and regional training and customer support for users.
The Web site features major sections devoted to weather, fire, smoke, satellite, radar, air quality and burn site imagery. OK-FIRE products come in a variety of venues: site-specific data boxes, maps, charts and tables. However, OK-FIRE users will need to download and install WeatherScope off the homepage for maps and charts to be seen.
Carlson said one of the most popular tools on the Web site is the Fire Prescription Planner. This tool uses 84-hour forecast output from the North American Model and indicates future hours where user-defined criteria are met.
“The planner can be used in two ways,” Carlson said. “Typically, people who prescribe burn have certain ranges for air temperature, wind and relative humidity that they are looking for.”
The criteria can be loaded into the planner, which will use these criteria to show windows of opportunity for a prescribed burn on an hourly basis over the next 84 hours. The Fire Prescription Planner can also be used to anticipate periods of high fire danger.
“You can put in criteria for high fire danger conditions like high winds and low relative humidity,” Carlson said. “The resulting forecast table will show green cells that represent periods of high fire danger. A fire department could thus look over the next few days to see if they need to have personnel on duty.”
Fire departments throughout the state were offered half-day training opportunities in 2008 to learn how to use the Web site. Two of the departments that participated were the Tulsa Fire Department and Stillwater Fire Department.
“Recently, we used it to advise our county commissioners about the fire risks and to make decisions about a local burn ban,” said Michael Baker, Tulsa Fire Department. “Overall, I like to look at it like a tool that I can use any time for any reason. I have ensured that I can connect from the field and can advise the media on risk and potential if I am on scene of a large fire.”
Rex Mott of the Stillwater Fire Department uses the OK-FIRE Web site for many different purposes.
“Stillwater Fire Department does use the OK-FIRE support system, not only for wildland fire management but also in determining conditions for hazardous material incidents,” Mott said. “For hazardous material incidents it provides accurate timely weather conditions and potential weather changes that could affect scene operations. OK-FIRE gives us the ability to see current and future incident weather conditions and adapt our tactics accordingly.”
The fire section of the Web site informs fire managers of the intensity and difficulty of controlling a fire, if one were to start. Also, the smoke section gives information on how well the atmosphere is able to disperse smoke at a given time.
“If you have a sensitive area downwind, like a hospital or public gathering, you can see what the advantage would be of having this information,” Carlson said.
There are many unique tools on the Web site, but by consulting documents in the “Product Information” section, a novice can learn to navigate and find much to use from the site. Also, technical support is available seven days a week via the phone number listed in the “Contacts” section.
Carlson has taught training sessions over the past three falls, and is planning on another series this fall. He also helps to develop some on-line training tools.