From: University of Idaho
Published September 28, 2004 10:12 AM

UI Research Working Out Methods to Help Officials Map Wildland Fire Hazard

MOSCOW, Idaho - Local governments and citizens in areas at risk of wildfire stand to benefit from a University of Idaho project to map fire hazard.

UI researchers are fine-tuning a fire hazard map for Moscow Mountain, which rises to the northeast of the university's north central Idaho campus.

The University of Idaho work will be highlighted during a fire science symposium sponsored by the College of Natural Resources to celebrate 25 years of research that have established its faculty as national leaders in the discipline.

Hazard maps and fire management plans are required for all local governments to qualify for funding through the National Fire Plan. The problem is, established methods for preparing fire fuels maps, and furthermore fire hazard maps do not exist, says UI remote sensing professor Paul Gessler.

"We've implemented pilot studies on Moscow Mountain to develop and test new methods for mapping fire fuels and developing fire hazard maps which take into account different variables that relate to danger for firefighters and local property owners," Gessler said.

"If we map the fuels, we can then use computer models to determine potential flame lengths, fireline intensities, and crown fire potential across the landscape," Gessler said.

The models will predict those variables and provide firefighters a better sense of which areas pose particular hazards. These areas can also be targeted for fuels reduction projects.

Through an innovative partnership with DigitShare, a Post Falls, Idaho, business, the resulting maps will be available to the public for viewing on the Internet. Individual landowner's properties will not be specifically identified on the site. "They can see the surrounding area and can zoom in or zoom out wherever they want," he added.

The research is still in progress, Gessler said. "We're also working to develop ways and means to keep the maps current. We know very well that ecosystems and landscapes are dynamic."

With satellite sensors, the mapmakers can see where changes have occurred and rather than having to remap an area, can fine-tune it, he said.

The mapping focuses both on ground and tree canopy fuels. The large amount of fuels such as downed logs and dense tree canopies, however, pose the greatest risk once a major fire takes on a life of its own.

When downed logs and standing trees begin to burn, a fire can begin to generate its own weather and resist all but the most intense, expensive and risky firefighting efforts.

Gessler said UI graduate student Mike Falkowski has been leading the fire hazard mapping project and analyzing the amount of fuel in test plots to ground-truth observations made from aerial and satellite sensors.


For more information, contact:
Paul Gessler
remote sensing professor
University of Idaho
(208) 885-2595

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