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Stanford Wildfire Research

Stanford researchers are focused on new systems and solutions to prevent catastrophic wildfire and guide communities to improve health and safety.

Decades of fire suppression, climate change, and the development of homes and businesses next to dense forests and wild areas called the “wildland urban interface” have made California’s forests a matchbox. In recent years, wildfires have killed over 150 people, destroyed over 35,000 homes, and caused more than $125 billion in societal losses. Diverse and disadvantaged populations, including Native Americans and migrant worker communities, are among the most vulnerable to wildfire and smoke exposure, which can have grave public health impacts. Fighting wildfires costs billions, and current practices are allowing the risks to grow.


Fire with Fire

With expertise in engineering, ecology, climate science, social science, health, and policy, the Stanford Woods Institute
for the Environment delivers a practical system focused
on fuels, ignitions, relocation, and extensive and intensive health impacts (FIRE). The FIRE approach strategically targets dangerous areas, reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires in a cost-effective way, and provides guidance for communities, including on smoke exposure and planning for relocation. The FIRE project will not only benefit Californians, but also serve as a model and drive policies for other areas under threat from wildfires around the globe.

Prevention Treatment

Ninety-five percent of wildfires are started by humans. A preventive treatment developed by Stanford researchers led by Eric Appel involving an environmentally safe gel-like retardant provides season-long protection against wildfire ignitions.
By stopping fires from starting, such treatments can be more effective and less expensive than current firefighting methods.

Zombie Forests

California’s zombie forests — forests established under a prior climate regime that are now out of climate equilibrium — represent a critical, and as yet unaccounted for, high risk factor for catastrophic wildfire. Stanford researchers led by Chris Field, in partnership with the Sierra Nevada Alliance and iNaturalist, a joint effort of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, are working to identify and map zombie forests in the Sierra and co-design adaptive management solutions with community members.

Michael Wara, Director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, serves on the state’s Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery Commission which released a report in June of 2019 finding that utilities played a major role causing recent catastrophic wildfires in the state. Wara is actively engaged in research and discussions to forward effective wildfire-related policies in California.

Kari Nadeau, Director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford, is one of the nation’s foremost experts in adult and pediatric allergy and asthma. Nadeau has active research projects in Fresno, California, which is inordinately impacted by smoke from wildfire and prescribed burns, to study the health impacts of smoke exposure on children and adults.

Wildfire Research and Prevention Experts

Eric Appel

Center Fellow

Noah Diffenbaugh

Senior Fellow
Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Chris Field

Senior Fellow
Faculty Director, Stanford Woods Institute
Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Humanities and Sciences

Rob Jackson

Senior Fellow
Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Alexandra Konings

Center Fellow, by Courtesy
Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Rebecca Miller

Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD

Senior Fellow

Michael Wara

Academic Research Staff

Gabrielle Wong-Parodi

Center Fellow
Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Wildfire News and Media Coverage

April 17, 2019
The Economist, NPR, Reuters and other outlets quote Michael Wara on PG&E's liability for recent California wildfires. See links to coverage below. “Today PG&E is confronting this risk from...
November 14, 2018 | NPR
Noah Diffenbaugh discusses climate change's role in wildfire risks.
June 29, 2018
Stanford climate & energy expert Michael Wara was quoted by several outlets on California utilities liability and risk related to wildfires.  State lawmakers tackle question of who pays for...
June 23, 2020
Multiple news outlets have covered a study finding that autumn days with extreme fire weather have more than doubled in California since the early 1980s due to climate change. Published StudyClimate...
May 27, 2020 | Deseret News
Chris Field comments on the concerns over putting off preventive wildfire measures, like prescribed burns, in the face of major event like coronavirus.
Stanford researchers have developed a deep-learning model that maps fuel moisture levels in fine detail across 12 western states, opening a door for better fire predictions.


Wildfire Publications