• Fire hazardReducing fire hazards from materials

    Fire researchers will tell you that there’s a simple solution for reducing fire hazards: eliminate flammable materials. If it doesn’t burn, the experts say, then there won’t be a fire. Of course, that option isn’t very practical or realistic; after all, who wants to sit on a block of cement when you can have a cushiony recliner? NIST offers a better strategy for reducing the thousands of deaths and injuries and billions of dollars in damage resulting from the more than a million fires each year in the United States.

  • WildfiresHumans need to learn to co-exist with wildfires. Here’s how we can do it.

    By Kendra R Chamberlain

    As housing developments creep into wild and natural areas, proactive planning can reduce the risk of harm in the face of fire. Urban planning for wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas now centers on creating and maintaining development and building codes that incorporate the home ignition zone (HIZ) principles. These codes promote practices such as using fire-resistant building materials for siding and rooftops; maintaining “defensible space” by clearing dead leaves from rooftops, gutters and decks; trimming trees and removing vegetation that can fuel fires during the dry season; and governing subdivision design to include multiple routes by which residents can flee and fire-fighting equipment can enter. Collectively, these types of policies are loosely referred to as WUI codes.

  • WildfirePromising new wildfire behavior model may aid fire managers in near real-time

    Wildfires continue to scar California beyond the normal fire season in what’s been a particularly catastrophic year for natural disasters across the U.S. But a new big-data solution for predicting wildfire spread is also heating up, and it may become a useful tool in the firefighters’ arsenal, according to wildfire researchers.

  • WildfiresCalifornia needs to rethink urban fire risk, starting with where it builds houses

    By Max Moritz

    With widespread damage to structures, the wildfires raging across southern California highlight the importance of where and how we build our communities and, in particular, how land use planning and better building codes can reduce our exposure to such events. Despite an aversion by some to land use planning, this strategy is simply common sense. It will also save lives and massive amounts of public resources over the long term. Where we do choose to develop and inhabit hazard-prone environments, it may be necessary to design communities with “passive survivability” in mind, or the ability to withstand the event and have water and power for a few days. This provides both the built environment and the people within some basic protection for a limited time. Strategies exist to lower the risk of fire in the current housing stock and to more carefully design and site future development where wildfires are possible. With increasing extremes expected as climate continues to change, officially recognizing this link and creating a safer built environment will only become more urgent.

  • WildfiresControlled burning of forest land limits severity of wildfires

    Controlled burning of forestland helped limit the severity of one of California’s largest wildfires, geographers say. The researchers studying the Rim Fire, which in 2013 burned nearly 400 square miles of forest in the Sierra Nevadas, found the blaze was less severe in areas recently treated with controlled burns. “You can fight fire with fire. You can fight severe fires using these more controlled fires under conditions that are suitable,” says one expert.

  • WildfiresSmaller branches drive the fastest, biggest wildfires

    As the West tallies the damages from the 2017 wildfire season, researchers are trying to learn more about how embers form and about the blaze-starting potential they carry. Preliminary findings indicate the diameter of the branches that are burning is the biggest single factor behind which ones will form embers the most quickly and how much energy they’ll pack.

  • WildfiresHow to fight wildfires with science

    By Albert Simeoni

    In the month of October nearly 250,000 acres, more than 8,000 homes and over 40 people fell victim to fast-moving wildfires in Northern California, the deadliest and one of the costliest outbreaks in state history. Now more wind-drive wildfires have scorched over 80,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, forcing thousands to evacuate and closing hundreds of schools. What is the most efficient way to protect the wild and-urban interface – the area where houses meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation? And what is the best way to evacuate? Fire conditions are constantly evolving, and basic research coupled with engineering solutions must keep up. Designing more resilient communities and infrastructure and protecting people more effectively are not onetime goals – they are constant. Currently nations are failing to meet the challenge, and impacts on communities are increasing.

  • FirefightingNew mapping software makes live-fire training safer

    Better to protect soldiers and sailors during live-fire training, the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) TechSolutions program has sponsored the development of a new Google Maps-style software tool to map out training areas in great detail. This “geospatial-awareness” tool is designed to plug into the U.S. Marine Corps’ KILSWITCH—the Kinetic Integrated Lightweight Software Individual Tactical Combat Handheld for Android.

  • WildfiresAs wildfires expand, fire science needs to keep up

    By Albert Simeoni

    In the month of October nearly 250,000 acres, more than 8,000 homes and over 40 people fell victim to fast-moving wildfires in Northern California, the deadliest and one of the costliest outbreaks in state history. Now is the time to wrestle with hard questions. Why did communities that were deemed safe suffer major damage? Should they be rebuilt in the same way? Are there better ways to fight extreme fires and limit their impact? How can emergency planners prepare better for scenarios where full evacuation is not possible? Fire conditions are constantly evolving, and basic research coupled with engineering solutions must keep up. Designing more resilient communities and infrastructure and protecting people more effectively are not onetime goals – they are constant. Currently nations are failing to meet the challenge, and impacts on communities are increasing.

  • Fireproofing buildingsFire-resistant coating to prevent failure in steel building fires

    A few extra coats of “paint” could be all that the steel in a building needs to prevent itself from buckling and failing in a fire. Scientists came up with this idea when they were figuring out a commercially viable solution to protect reinforced concrete against underground fires. After two years of intensive research and development by the interdisciplinary team, an affordable 3-in-1 coating that offers enhanced fire and corrosion protection was invented.

  • WildfiresWildfire early warning system could prevent spring blazes

    Researchers have developed a new early warning system to predict when and where human-caused wildfires are most likely to occur in the spring. Using satellite images of vegetation, the researchers can forecast where wildfire risk peaks in boreal forests by tracking moisture in fuel sources like leaves.

  • First respondersBattling fires increases firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens

    The threat of getting burned by roaring flames is an obvious danger of firefighting, but other health risks are more subtle. For example, firefighters have been found to develop cancer at higher rates than the general population. Now researchers have measured how much firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and other harmful compounds increases when fighting fires.

  • Building safetyCould a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower fire happen in the U.S.?

    By Brian Meacham

    The Grenfell Tower fire in London has triggered questions about how the tragedy could have happened, whether it could happen elsewhere, and what might be learned from it to prevent future disasters. The Grenfell Tower fire spread much faster and more intensely than anyone expected. From what we know so far, there are physical, cultural and legal reasons dozens of people died. Addressing each of them will help British authorities, and fire protection and fire prevention professionals around the world, improve their efforts to reduce the chance of future tragedies like the one at Grenfell Tower.

  • Building safetyAt least 600 U.K high-rises have combustible cladding installed

    British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Thursday that investigators have found combustible cladding on “a number” of publicly owned tower blocks similar to Grenfell Tower. “Shortly before I came to the chamber, I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible,” she said. The prime minister’s said her office estimated that 600 high-rise buildings in England have cladding similar to Grenfell Tower.

  • Building safetyGrenfell Tower disaster: how did the fire spread so quickly?

    By Feng Fu

    In the middle of the night, while most residents were sleeping, a devastating fire started at Grenfell Tower in London. From an engineering perspective, there are a number of factors in the design of the 24-storey tower block that may have contributed to the speed and scale of the blaze. Most of the current guidelines across the world contain detailed design requirements for fire safety such as evacuation routes, compartmentation and structural fire design. But Grenfell Tower was built in 1974. At that time, the rules and regulations were not as clear and well-developed as they are now.