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.
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.
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.
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.