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Myoung Soo Won, left, from the Korean Forest Research Institute, and Gi-ho Shim, center, and Byung Doo Lee with the Korean Forest Service, are visiting the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory this week. Rak-Sam Ko, not pictured, is also traveling with the Korean contingent. Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian Michael Galllacher/Missoulian

Firefighting in South Korea differs a lot from dealing with the blazes we know in Montana, but the fire science stays the same.

That’s why Myoung Soo Won of the Korea Forest Research Institute was in Missoula this week to tour the U.S. Forest Service Fire Sciences Laboratory. About 99 percent of Korean forest fires are human-caused, he said. He and three colleagues from the Korea Forest Service were studying U.S. and Canadian methods for training fire researchers and developing high-tech ways of preventing large fires.

“Recently, we have seen a change in forest fire occurrence due to climate change,” he said. “In the last 20 years, our temperatures have increased 2 degrees and our humidity has gone down by 7 percent. And our fires have increased in intensity and frequency.”

The Fire Sciences Laboratory already has international partnerships with 27 countries, program manager Colin Hardy said. While the Korean relationship was barely 24 hours old on Thursday afternoon, Hardy said the lab’s 50-year legacy drew heavily on its worldwide outreach. Staff scientists cannot reach the most senior rankings of the lab until they demonstrate their research has international significance.

Within the United States, the lab has similar partnerships with 20 academic campuses, and particularly strong ties to the University of Montana and University of Idaho. It is home to researcher Wei Min Hao, who shared Montana credit with UM climate scientist Steve Running on the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Hao’s specialty on air chemistry and greenhouse gas distribution has become a major plank of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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