The Many Environments of Fire Effects Monitoring


At first, the idea that the upcoming work week was to be spent solely in the fire office in Marblemount was kind of a drag. After all the cool places we had traveled to around the North Cascades National Park, we were going nowhere this week but back and forth between computer desks. The truth is, with every day my crew and I spend in the field collecting data, it’s another day we have to spend in the office doing data entry and crunching those numbers.

Sitting at my temporary desk inside the fire office surrounded by dozens of folders of data taken from the two previous trips, I came to the conclusion that this might not be so bad. As a Fire Effects Monitoring crew member, our job is to go out in the field and collect data on different plot locations. This information ranges and can be different for specific environments.

The most common data we collect is on the fuel load on the ground, this is a measure of how much combustible material, like leaves and straw, is on the ground and can carry a flame. In addition to that, we maintain a database of all tagged trees in the area and a list of every living plant species in the plot. All of our plots are 50 by 20 meters and are generated at random by computer.

The first round of date that needed to be entered into the system came from Eastern Washington Lake Roosevelt which is a National Recreation area. Eastern Washington is a much drier environment compared to Western Washington where it is normal for parts of the state to receive several rain weeks in a row. I have to say, coming from the south I’ve come to enjoy this type of weather because the air is much drier with barley any humidity. Back home in North Carolina I’m sure I would have melted be now!

The second data collection trip we took was to the Far East, to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington and Vancouver BC. We had to take a ferry out of Anacortes to Friday Harbor to get there; this was especially exciting for me because I had never ridden a ferry before!

Here on the island the vegetation was much more dense and diverse. This area was totally different from the last trip we took seeing that the islands had received far more rain than most parts of the state.

Punching in the numbers from all the places we had been while thinking of amazing locations I’d been really made me feel fortunate. Not many people get to visit such diverse environments from lush and fertile to dry and barren. In the end, this week in the office was much needed, I got the opportunity to do a little reflecting on the places we have gone and the sights we had seen. And for every number I punch in, each one helps recreate that specific landscape once more in my mind. Now maybe I’ve been sitting here too long or maybe I should switch to decaf but either way data entry isn’t as bad as I thought…it’s just about become a new environment in itself.