In 2012, federal agencies spent $1.9 billion battling wildfires in the United States. Wildfires are getting larger, causing more damage and becoming more dangerous and expensive to fight. Humboldt State University’s Wildland Fire Laboratory is working to understand the flammability differences of fuels in an effort to better manage wildfires and lessen the negative impacts they can have on ecosystems.
As one of only three universities in the nation to have an active indoor fire research lab, HSU’s Wildland Fire Lab houses state-of-the-art equipment and cutting-edge technologies that allow students and faculty to work together to study fire behavior. Faculty and students conduct research that tests the flammability of different fuels (tree debris, grasses and decomposed organic matter that help spread wildfires) using the fire lab’s burning facility, thermal infrared imaging camera and fire modeling software.
In addition to research, professors engage students in utilizing models to predict fire behavior, fire-caused tree mortality and fuel consumption (amount of fuel expended in the fire). Through the use of experiments and models, students acquire the training needed to help them become skilled fire scientists and managers who can better understand the role of fire in ecosystems and discover effective methods in reducing the undesired impacts of modern wildfires.
“The flammability of species partially reflects its ecological relationship with fire and also helps us understand how a fire will burn,” said Jeffrey Kane, director of HSU’s Wildland Fire Lab. “By assessing the fuel characteristics and conducting experimental burns, we can also help determine how future fires under a change climate may burn as the climate warms and fires become more frequent.”
The combination of applied research and student involvement in the HSU Wildland Fire Lab provides important information on how to manage wildfires and helps prepare students to become the future fire science professionals who will help and shape fire policy throughout the country.