wildfire

North American Wildland Fuel Database

Fighting a wildfire can be tough in the best of circumstances.  It helps fire managers to know what is burning, and on what kind of terrain. 

University of Washington and Michigan Tech researchers recently unveiled a tool that can help fire managers.  It's a database with corresponding maps that show fuel loads of living and dead vegetation, the very fuel that will feed a fire. 

Note the map of our region: purple is a high load of fuels. 

April Ehrlich | JPR News

It’s been a little over a year since the Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise, which impacted thousands of lives in Northern California. The disaster also alarmed people across the West, who are now asking themselves: Could a fire like that happen here?


U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region

One major outcome of the Oregon Governor's Council on Wildfire Response was a number: four billion.  That's the amount of money estimated to do all the work to make Oregon's forests more fire resistant, less prone to catastrophic fires. 

It's a big number, but still less than the estimates of damage if Oregon has more large and destructive fires.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Wildfire has become a part of every westerner's life. But how are we adapting as communities?

That's a question a team of researchers, led by University of Oregon landcape architecture professor Bart Johnson, hopes to answer. His team has started a multi-year project to help understand how social networks in the west interact and collaborate to manage widfire risk.

Photo courtesy of Paul Weingartner

November 8th marked the one-year anniversary of the Camp Fire.  When the smoke finally cleared, most of the town of Paradise, California was gone, and 85 people were dead. 

A number of factors, both long-term and immediate, led to the fire and its enormous devastation.  Mark Arax pointed these out in a piece earlier this year in California Sunday magazine. 

Poster for film Fire in Paradise
Netflix

One year ago tomorrow, a downed PG&E power line sparked the Camp Fire, a catastrophic wildfire that swept through the Sierra foothills town of Paradise, CA, killing 85 people and destroying over 18,000 structures. Recent counts show that the town has lost 90 percent of its population since the fire. Many former residents have resettled in our listening area.

Netflix has released a new documentary, Fire in Paradise, that tells the gut-wrenching stories of the evacuation of Paradise as the fire bore down on the town, in the words of people who lived through it.

BLM

Fires largely stayed away from the region through the summer, but no one doubts they'll be back.  And so debates and discussions about how to best manage open land for fire resilience continue. 

William Simpson wants to add an element to the discussion: wild horses.  His plan for a "Wild Horse Fire Brigade" would introduce wild horses to forest and field, in the hope that they will eat some of the smaller fuels that can lead to bigger fires. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, by AlbertHerring, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29814833

There was a great deal of discussion during the recent smoky fire seasons of the need for prescribed burning.  It results in some smoke under controlled conditions outside of fire season, in the hope that there won't be a lot of uncontrolled burning IN fire season. 

And sure enough, even before fire season ended on the Oregon side, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest began planning for its controlled burning season. 

Cal Fire

Cal Fire officials say a slower fire season has given them more time to ensure property owners are maintaining a defensible space around structures.


skeeze/Pixabay

The ecological processes in a healthy, living forest are different from those in a forest where a fire has burned.  But how?  Some of the answers turn out to be surprising, especially when it comes to how water moves across and into the landscape. 

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory ("Berkeley Lab") used computers to model how water--in both snow and liquid form--is absorbed and evaporated in a key California watershed.  Where the researchers expected less evaporation, the model shows more. 

Inciweb.gov

We can agree that wildfire is natural in western forests, and at the same time not want fires to burn down our houses.  Some hard lessons have been learned about fire behavior in recent years. 

It would certainly help if fires were more predictable, and they just might be.  Researchers at the University of California-Irvine used machine learning, a kind of artificial intelligence, to predict how big a wildfire might get, based on the ignition point and the conditions where the fire started. 

Geoffrey Riley/JPR News

Many people around the region have had to confront the possibility of losing their homes to wildfire.  The progression may seem simple, load-evacuate-survive, but it's not simple for everyone. 

Challenges from lack of a car to physical disabilities could hinder evacuation.  JPR's April Ehrlich gauged the effects of wildfire on diverse populations in Northern California in a series called "Oppressed By Wildfire."

The series will run the rest of this week (September 24-27) on The Exchange. 

Image of forest on fire
skeeze via Pixabay

Governor Kate Brown’s Council on Wildfire Response held a meeting to discuss new wildfire management plans on Monday. Their draft proposal is already getting pushback from one firefighting group.

Skeez / Pixabay

Most of this summer has been relatively mild, but memories of large fires and widespread smoke are still fresh from the last two years. 

Jackson County commissioners put some money and political muscle into a campaign to convince the federal government to fully supress all wildfires.  The feds own more than half of all the land in the county. 

The campaign includes video components and a petition to Congress. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49765293

An encroaching wildfire is one of scariest situations any of us can face.  Evacuating people is one thing: grab important stuff, get in the car, and go. 

The process gets far more complicated when there are livestock animals to transport.  Southern Oregon Emergency Aid is set up to help livestock owners get their animals to safety when an evacuation is ordered. 

Tami Bishop and Linda Bacon of SOEA join us on the phone. 

skeeze/Pixabay

Large parts of rural Josephine County do not have fire districts in the local government sense.  They are instead protected by private businesses that perform fire and medical emergency services for fees. 

An advisory vote last spring showed strong support for the formation of a rural fire district, and the legislature allocated some money for the project in an appropriations bill late in the session.

State Senator Herman Baertschiger of Grants Pass is the Republican leader in the senate. 

April Ehrlich/JPR News

We devote several segments of this week's Exchange to a one-year lookback to the Carr Fire and its ongoing effects in the Redding area. 

But JPR News has other avenues of approach to covering wildfire past and present.  Exchange producer and reporter April Ehrlich has been working for months on collecting the individual stories of people who live in communities affected by wildfire. 

 

To the people in a two-horse hack in August 1902, the forest fire off to their left seemed a safe distance away.

University of Oregon

There are still people who spend their summers on mountaintop perches, scanning the horizon for wildfires.  But lookouts staffed by live humans have largely been replaced with remote cameras. 

And networks of cameras are being combined into a system called ALERTWildfire, a joint project of the University of Oregon and several other schools and agencies.  It bears some resemblance to the ShakeAlert system for earthquake early warnings. 

And the two programs share some people, including Leland O'Driscoll at UO. 

Oregonexplorer.info

The last few fire seasons prodded many of us to think differently about wildfire.  People who don't live particularly close to forests became aware of the risk of fires burning through neighborhoods in town, as they did in Redding and Paradise and elsewhere. 

The U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry offer a new tool to get a graphic look at wildfire risk.  It's an online map that incorporates wildfire history and fire risk, the Wildfire Risk Explorer

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