Finding fire articles and documents

So maybe you’re in university, working on your Master’s. In that case, you may have one of the world’s finest repositories of paper and digital records available to you, in the form of the university library. You have access to all the latest journals – IJWF, CJFR, FEM, Fire, Fire Ecology. But even then – you’re unlikely to know where to go for all of the government documents, or maybe you’re on the hunt for a key conference paper. These grey literature sources (ok, conference docs aren’t technically grey lit) often contain key information in fire science, and their value is sometimes only recognized years after the fact.

In this post, I’d like to highlight my own favorite search sources. I’d say that these days I probable can find 99% of what I’m looking for. Success rate drops off somewhat for really old documents (pre-1960 or so) but over time these are getting scanned as well.

1. Google Scholar. Need I say more? This baby pretty much singlehandedly revolutionized research disciplines when it came out, with its immense full-text access and ‘times cited’ links showing you where and how many times documents were referenced. I would say that its strength lies in access to recent publications (from 1-10 years old), as Google does a good job of automatically updating and referencing. Current ‘in press’ stuff is often missing, so for really current articles, you often have to go to the actual journal page and look for ‘current issue’ or whatever.

2. Treesearch. This isn’t necessarily my #2 go-to spot, but works well for US Forest Service sources, letting you search for all those General Technical Reports (GTRs), Research Papers (RPs), Proceedings documents (Ps) and so on, by number, research station and type. I’ve been witness to two institutional library shutdowns in my short career, and the printed versions of these old reports are bulky and seem to sometimes be of dubious value; I hope the US Forest Service and other agencies recognize the value of the older documents and continue to scan and archive the older reports because sometimes it seems like the pre-1980 stuff is still unlikely to be in digital form.

3. Along a similar vein, the CFS Publications site is the go-to page for classic Canadian fire sources from the CFS, including papers from CFS authors published in various other journals and formats (ie, it has much more than just CFS Information and Technical Reports). Find all those old J.G. Wright, H.W. Beall, C.E. Van Wagner and other working documents up here. I’ve found most of what I was looking for in terms of old Canadian fire arcana, but some authored materials are unfortunately still missing. I guess it’s impossible to keep track of everything.

4. Ok, for general fire papers that don’t meet the above criteria, or if you checked the government sites and came up empty-handed, the Fire Research Institute is an excellent and little-known repository. Thanks to Jason Greenlee for putting this together. The site claims to contain over 168,000 articles (as of time of writing), and appears to be a labour of love, but of excellent quality. When Jason is ready to retire, I hope this site gets taken over by an appropriate institution, as it has a lot of value.

5. ResearchGate. Social media meets academic research – it’s a novel concept, though I know it rubs some people a bit wrong. Also known as a good place to get articles that are copyrighted and aren’t open access! The ‘questions’ and ‘jobs’ links are pretty unique, and I think if you were a young person looking for an academic position and willing to travel abroad this would be an excellent way of finding out about obscure job postings. I believe the company itself is German, and it doesn’t seem to be updated quite as often as you would think, given how current social media tech is these days. I think they may have had some legal trouble with posting copyright materials. In any case, enjoy it for what it is – post your thesis, recommend a paper, leave a comment with your favorite researcher, check out that posting at the University of Uzbekistan.

6. FRAMES, the Fire Research and Management Exchange System, is kind of a neat one too. The main reason I go here is because it packages things by project. So if you want to see both the documentation and software associated with a computer model, FRAMES may have a page dedicated to it. It’s also very good for US research papers from 1990s-today that may not be open access.

7. Sci-hub. If all else fails, or if you’re an anarchist type, this is the pirate-guerilla warfare approach to research documents. ‘Bring knowledge to the people’, said its author, and a recent article suggests the site contains over 64 million papers. That’s a lot of science. It’s repeatedly threatened with legal action by the likes of Elsevier, and has been shut down several times (but has risen from the ashes each time). Its format, where you paste a link in the main search window, seems prone to failure but I’ve used it on occasion with some success.

Happy searching! I’ll try to update this periodically to keep it current.

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