RENO – More than 10 million acres of land across the United States were scorched by wildland fires last year – more than any other year on record. Those fires destroyed more than 2,600 homes nationwide and burned nearly one million acres of land in California and Nevada alone. Fighting them, several of which were classified as “megafires” (fires over 100,000 acres), cost the U.S. Forest Service more than $1.7 billion, consuming more than 50-percent of the agency’s total annual budget.
A new research center at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) is aiming to help federal, state, and local agencies reduce those dramatic numbers and better prepare for, understand, and respond to wildland fire causes, processes, and effects.
“Fire science is inherently interdisciplinary,” said Hans Moosmüller, Ph.D., a DRI atmospheric science research professor and director of the new research center. “Combining our broad expertise in operational fire support, fire emissions, fire ecology, and fire hydrology was a logical step to gain a holistic understanding of what is causing more extreme fires, what is happening during and after the fire, and the catastrophic effects we are seeing on our environment and our communities.”
In addition, Moosmüller explained, because climate change is increasing the frequency and spatial and seasonal extent of fires, building upon DRI’s extensive climate change research will allow faculty and students to respond to the increasing need for bridging basic research and operational support, yielding solution-oriented science.
The initial focus of DRI’s new Wildland Fire Science Center (WFSC) will be on multidisciplinary research activities in the United States. As the center establishes a strong domestic portfolio of funded projects and research collaborations, DRI faculty plan to expand globally, working with their international colleagues and partner organizations to research wildfire prone areas including high latitude and altitude (boreal and alpine) regions, Amazon, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia.
The new research center will also support the availability and development of advanced technologies and tools needed for better fire science and management, including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and satellite remote sensing, as well the Institute’s unique biomass burning facilities and ecosystem laboratories.
For more information on DRI’s new Wildland Fire Science Center (WFSC) please visit www.dri.edu
Wildland fire statistics sourced from the National Interagency Coordination Center – NIFC 2015 Wildland Fire Summary and Statistics Annual Report.