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Scientists mapping out wildfire risk across entire State of California

Posted at 10:19 PM, Dec 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-10 02:47:47-05

Scientists are setting out to gain a much more detailed understanding of wildfire risk across California. It’s part of a multi-agency effort to prevent the next big fire.

The GigaFire Project aims to create a map of overgrown areas where a wildfire could quickly turn into an out-of-control inferno.

Scientists are using cutting-edge technology to map wildfire risk on a scale that hasn’t been done before.

“We’re gonna try to do the entire state. Practically speaking, we’re focusing first on the forested lands and then on the rangelands of California,” said Jonathan Greenberg who is the lead researcher on the project at UNR.

The GigaFire Projectis a partnership between the University of Nevada, Reno… Cal Fire and the California Air Resources Board.

“We’ve been talking about this with Cal Fire and the Air Resources Board for years. So, it’s been great to get this project rolling along,” said Greenberg.

Researchers are using satellite imagery and remote sensors to create an up-to-date map showing forest fuel buildup across California.

“There are other fuel maps out there, but the GigaFire map should really represent a great leap forward in the accuracy of those maps,” said Alan Talhelm who is an air pollution specialist at the California Air Resources Board.

The emphasis is on so-called latter fuels which allow a fire to burn into the forest canopy and consume everything in its path.

Data from the project will be used to identify high-risk fire areas in need of forest thinning and prescribed burns.

“In order for us to understand where to best put treatments on the ground, we need to understand what fire behavior would look like,” added Talhelm.

The technology allows scientists to predict fire behavior while keeping tabs on sudden changes to a landscape that are caused by wildfire or extreme weather.

“It’ll provide us the ability to rapidly refresh the information on the ground about fuels and vegetation,” said Cal Fire Senior Environmental Scientist Tadashi Moody.

State-of-the-art modeling technology will also allow Cal Fire to predict the effects that prescribed fire or forest thinning could have on the ecosystem.

The map showing forest fuel buildup will be updated on an annual basis.

The three-year project is paid for by a $1.8 million-dollar grant from Cal Fire and $570,000 from the Air Resources Board.