FIRETOOL: an expert system for the use of prescribed fires in Brazilian savannas.
A prototype expert system, FIRETOOL, was developed to help decision makers and managers use prescribed burns for the ecological management of Brazilian savannas (cerrado) conservation areas. The expertise necessary for producing guidelines for fire management in cerrados, that was used in FIRETOOL, came from the authors' experience, the literature, and an interview survey of Brazilian scientific researchers and managers of national parks and ecological reserves. The knowledge was encoded in a commercial expert system shell, KnowledgePro, and auxiliary programmes were used for drawing and presenting the figures. FIRETOOL has four subsystems: STARTING presents the programme and gives instructions on how to design a short-term burning plan; FIRERISK assess the risk of a wildfire in the site and its likely intensity; FIREUSE estimates whether a prescribed burn is necessary and suggests the most appropriate fire regime; and PROCEDURE gives directions on basic techniques for carrying out controlled fires and for making firebreaks. FIRETOOL was initially tested against the assessments of an expert on cerrado fire ecology. A few adjustments enabled the system to give assessments and recommendations consistent with this expert. The development of FIRETOOL allowed most of the existing information on cerrado fire ecology to be assembled, analysed and used for practical problem solving. Managers' difficulties were better perceived and many knowledge gaps were identified, thus giving directions to improve decision making and research.