April 22 - Scientists in California have teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to study wildfires, in hopes of gaining new insights into fire prevention and containment. The study comes amid one of the driest spells in the state's history and could prove invaluable as summer temperatures take hold. Ben Gruber reports.
Researchers at the University of California Riverside are playing with fire. In this test lab, Professor Marko Princevac is monitoring a brushfire that he and his team ignited. Unlike real wildfires, the conditions that fuel THIS one are carefully controlled...in order to study how different environmental factors like wind and humidity.. affect the speed at which real fires spread. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROF. MARKO PRINCEVAC, COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING, UC RIVERSIDE ON TESTING, SAYING: "We designed this wind tunnel where we can control the speed , the ambient temperature, the relative humidity and what we do is make a model of a real situation in the field." And by replicating different types of weather conditions, the team can create models they say will help fire-fighters to more efficiently control real fires. Princevac says the data collected can be used to reduce the dangers of "controlled burns" - fires that are started to clear dangerous vegetation in high risk regions.... as well as allow people like David Weise of the U.S. Forest Service to better understand the rate at which different types of vegetation fuel fires. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAVID WEISE, U.S. FOREST SERVICE, ON PURPOSE OF STUDY, SAYING: "What we are hoping to learn is how fire spreads in live fuels and dead fuels. The dead fuels behind me are the shaved woods on the ground and the live fuels, which are representative of what we find on the hillsides in Southern California, are the elevated fuels. So what we are trying to understand is how fire spreads in those two fuel types and how those two fuel types work together when they burn." Weise says that with most of the Western United States facing historic drought conditions, the risk of wildfires is higher than ever. But he's hoping the knowledge gained from these test fires will give fire-fighters a better chance at saving property and lives when confronted by the real thing.