NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – In the wake of the Calf Canyon Hermits Peak fire, which began as prescribed burns. But scientists at Los Alamos National Lab say they are necessary.

LANL hydrologist Adam Atchley says wildfires are a natural and necessary part of forest life. “Taking fire out of that ecosystem would be like taking rain out of a rain forest–you no longer have that ecosystem,” said Atchley. “Ecosystems have to have fire.”


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Atchley points to the 2020 Medio Fire outside Santa Fe, which was quickly stopped by a prescribed burn’s burn scar. “The cost of the Medio fire was 3 million dollars. The cost to implement the prescribed fire was about $30,000,” Atchley said.

He says LANL is in the process of developing two types of fire behavior models to help better manage prescribed burns. The first is called Firetec. “It solves complicated equations that get at how does the wind move through the forest canopy? How does that interact with the atmosphere and fire behavior?”

The second model, called Quicfire, is a field version of Firetec that can hopefully be used on a laptop. Atchley says right now we’re in a catch-22 situation where prescribed burns are more necessary but also riskier than ever and believes this technology will help. “Because of climate change, we now have a moving target of forest conditions and fire behavior, and our science needs to be able to aim at a moving target.”

Fire leaders are currently helping develop LANL’s new software but it’s not clear when it could become widely available.