Wildfire propagation and forest regrowth
Wildland fires are entering a new era where the extent of their damage is increasing, the fires becoming more intense, and increasingly more difficult to combat. In recent decades, wildfire frequency has nearly quadrupled in the western US, with the total burn areas over six times its previous level. Among many factors, warming and drying as a result of climate change are the main drivers behind creating conditions that foster more vulnerable fire environments across forest ecosystems.
We look at this problem not only at the time scale of fighting wildfires, but also at a much longer time scale that incorporates the effects of climate change on forests. Forest regrowth should be taken into account and may change forest management practices such as controlled burns, where to set up fire breaks, as well as risk levels at wildland-urban interfaces. We are working with computer scientists to build integrated fire propagation and forest regrowth model, as well as associated visualization tools. This project will allow us to customize wildfire propagation to the specific topography, fuel load, and prevailing weather of a particular region. With these new tools, we can investigate wildfire-forest dynamics under varied heterogeneous fields and conditions.