• 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.

  • Building safetyNew materials to make buildings better, safer

    A new type of construction material, called cross-laminated timber, is currently approved for buildings with up to six stories. Designers would like to use it in taller buildings because it is environmentally sustainable and can speed the construction process. To use it for those taller buildings, the industry needs to understand how the timber would perform during a fire. NIST experiments are measuring the material’s structural performance and the amount of energy the timber contributes to the fire.

  • WildfiresDrones help in better understanding of wildfires

    U.S. Geological Survey scientists and partners are taking technology to the next level, using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to acquire both fire intensity and emissions data during prescribed burns. This effort combines expertise from multiple USGS partners that could reduce the harmful effects of smoke impacts from use of prescribed burns. Lessening the risk to property and lives during wildfires is a primary purpose of prescribed burns.

  • WildfiresNew era of western wildfire requires new ways of protecting people, ecosystems

    Current wildfire policy cannot adequately protect people, homes, and ecosystems from the longer, hotter fire seasons climate change is causing. Efforts to extinguish every blaze and reduce the buildup of dead wood and forest undergrowth are becoming increasingly inadequate on their own. Instead, experts urge policymakers and communities to embrace policy reform that will promote adaptation to increasing wildfire and warming.

  • 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.