• WildfiresHumans have dramatically increased extent, duration of U.S. wildfire season

    The United States has experienced some of its largest wildfires on record over the past decade, especially in the western half of the country. The duration and intensity of future wildfire seasons is a point of national concern given the potentially severe impact on agriculture, ecosystems, recreation, and other economic sectors, as well as the high cost of extinguishing blazes. The annual cost of fighting wildfires in the United States has exceeded $2 billion in recent years. Humans have dramatically increased the spatial and seasonal extent of wildfires across the United States in recent decades and ignited more than 840,000 blazes in the spring, fall and winter seasons over a 21-year period, according to a new study.

  • WildfiresExtreme fires will increasingly be part of our global landscape

    Wildfire burned more than 10 million acres in the United States in 2015, and cost over $2 billion to suppress. There were 23 million landscape fires around the world between 2002 and 2013, and researchers define 478 of them as extreme wildfire events. Increasingly dangerous fire weather is forecast as the global footprint of extreme fires expands.

  • WildfiresDevastating wildfires in Eastern forests likely to be repeated

    The intense wildfires that swept through the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee late last month were a tragic melding of the past and the future. The fast-moving, wind-whipped blazes that burned more than 150,000 acres, killed fourteen people and damaged 2,400 structures in Gatlinburg and Sevier County may be a portent of things to come.

  • FirefightersThermal sensor provides warning for firefighter safety

    The conditions inside a burning building are perilous and can change rapidly. For firefighters searching for people trapped within a burning building, these risks can be exacerbated in a matter of seconds as exposure to high temperature may cause their personal protective equipment (PPE) to fail. This is particularly true in the presence of infrared radiation, which can rapidly increase the temperature of a firefighter’s environment without warning. DHS S&T  is now working with partners to develop the Burn Saver Thermal Sensor, a battery-powered device that will be carried by firefighters and detects thermal changes in their operating environments.

  • WildfiresThe origins of Tennessee’s recent wildfires

    Wildfires raged recently through the foothills of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, fueled by severe drought and high winds in the eastern part of the state. The fires damaged or destroyed more than 1,400 structures, including homes, chapels, and resort cabins. Fourteen people were killed, and nearly 150 others were injured. Last week, two juveniles were taken into custody and charged with aggravated arson in connection with the deadly wildfires – but sources such as Climate Central suggested that rising temperatures may have played a role in the fires. Does climate change play a role in determining the frequency and intensity of wildfires?

  • FirefightingFirefighters to have bushfire predictions at the fingertips

    Researchers at the University of Western Australia are developing a new touchscreen device that can be mounted in a fire truck to help firefighters predict where and when a bushfire will spread. The researchers are modifying bushfire simulation software Australis into a high-end tablet to provide accurate predictions of fire behavior more rapidly than current methods.

  • Forest firesClimate change has doubled Western U.S. forest fire area

    Human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the U.S. West over the last thirty years. Scientists say that since 1984, heightened temperatures and resulting aridity have caused fires to spread across an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have — an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. The scientists warn that further warming will increase fire exponentially in coming decades.

  • Public safetyPublic safety consolidation works well for some communities, but not for others

    In the first comprehensive work of its kind, a Michigan State University criminologist has completed a study on the implementation and outcomes of public safety consolidation — the merging of a city’s police and fire departments. The study finds that while public safety consolidation can work well for some communities, it is not the best solution for others.

  • WildfiresImpact of demographic development on fires in ecosystems as strong as that of climate change

    Every year, about 350 million hectares of land are devastated by fires worldwide. This corresponds to about the size of India. To estimate the resulting damage to human health and economy, precise prognosis of the future development of fires is of crucial importance. Previous studies often considered climate change to be the most important factor. Now, a group of scientists has found that population development has the same impact at least.

  • WildfiresLearning to live with wildfires: how communities can become “fire-adapted”

    By Susan J. Prichard

    In recent years wildfire seasons in the western United States have become so intense that many of us who make our home in dry, fire-prone areas are grappling with how to live with fire. We know that fuel reduction in dry forests can mitigate the effects of wildfires. After decades of fire exclusion, dense and dry forests with heavy accumulations of fuel and understory vegetation often need to be treated with a combination of thinning and prescribed burning. Native peoples, less than 150 years ago, proactively burned the landscapes we currently inhabit – for personal safety, food production, and enhanced forage for deer and elk. In some places, people still maintain and use traditional fire knowledge. As we too learn to be more fire-adapted, we need to embrace fire not only as an ongoing problem but an essential part of the solution.

  • WildfiresExploring the unique relationship between fire and mankind

    Fire has been an important part of the Earth System for over 350 million years, but humans are the only animals to have used and controlled fire. The complex interrelationships between fire and mankind transcend international borders and disciplinary boundaries. The specter of climate change highlights the need to improve our understanding of these relationships across space and time.

  • FirefightingSeismic networks can serve as the backbone for 21st century firefighting

    The same twenty-first century communications network used for real-time seismic monitoring in Nevada and parts of California can provide high-quality images to help first responders catch fires before they grow costly and dangerous. Experts say that seismic networks in place to provide earthquake early warning, if designed to sustain multi-hazard monitoring, can provide a robust data backbone for fire cameras that pan, tilt and zoom as they monitor wildfires and other extreme weather events like remote floods.

  • WildfiresWildfire map shows European countries most at risk of catastrophic fire damage

    Cities and tourist areas such as Catalonia, Madrid, and Valencia are among those most at risk of catastrophic damage from wildfires in Europe, according to research. An international research team has put together a map using satellite data that details the countries in Europe with the highest likelihood of experiencing wildfire damage — with large fires occurring more frequently near “Wildland-Urban Interface” WUI areas in the countries of Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Italy, and Spain.

  • FirefightingProtecting firefighters from harm

    If there is anything common among the 1.1 million firefighters — both career and volunteer — serving in the United States, it is that at any moment, they may be required to put their lives on the line to protect people and property from disaster. But who helps protect these dedicated public servants from the on-the-job dangers they face?

  • DisastersModern buildings have an alarming flaw when people need to escape quickly

    By Achille Fonzone

    The landscapes in which many of us live would have been unimaginable to previous generations. We now have skyscrapers so striking and tall they would make Icarus turn pale. Yet in emergency situations, our seemingly brilliant designs sometimes turn against us – and become death traps when disaster strikes. There is a major problem with the way we evaluate the safety of the structures in which we live and work. Until we address it, our chances of survival are a little like those of the characters from Greek legend – in the lap of the gods.