Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NIST study of Colorado wildfire shows actions can change outcomes

10.11.2015

A new study of Colorado's devastating 2012 Waldo Canyon wildfire demonstrates that prompt and effective action can significantly change the outcome of fires that occur in areas where residential communities and undeveloped wildlands meet. The study by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the most comprehensive examination in history of a wildland urban interface (WUI) fire.

"WUI fires are very different from earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados where the hazard cannot be controlled," said NIST fire researcher and principal investigator Alexander Maranghides.


Photo taken during the 2012 Waldo Canyon wildland urban interface (WUI) fire showing homes in a Colorado Springs, Colo., neighborhood that were ignited as a result of structure-to-structure fire spread, a distinguishing characteristic of WUI fires.

Credit: Colorado Springs Fire Department

"Our study showed that WUI fires also are distinct from either urban or wildland fires alone. We provide strong evidence that defensive measures designed specifically for the wildland urban interface and administered early can significantly reduce destruction and damage."

For example, the study found that because the Waldo firefighters tailored their response to the specific WUI conditions, 75 percent of their attempts to extinguish ignited structures were successful and 79 percent of their efforts at fire containment were successful in preventing rampant fire spread.

... more about:
»Canyon »Colorado »NIST »earthquakes »wildfires

The details of the NIST study are described in a report released today in Washington, D.C., during the Fire Chiefs White House Roundtable on Climate Change Impacts at the Wildland Urban Interface.

The number of WUI fires, particularly in the western and southern regions of the United States, has grown as housing developments push into wilderness areas. According to the Bureau of Land Management's National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the 10 years since 2002 saw an annual average of nearly 71,000 WUI fires recorded and 1.9 million hectares (4.7 million acres) burned.

Today, more than 32 percent of U.S. housing units and one-tenth of all land with housing are situated in the nation's 89 million hectares (220 million acres) of WUI, putting approximately 72,000 communities and more than 120 million people at risk.

The physical and monetary toll from WUI fire destruction is staggering. The NIFC calculates that nearly 39,000 homes--more than 3,000 per year--were lost to wildfires from 2000-2012 and that federal, state and local agencies spent an average of $4.7 billion annually during that period on WUI fire suppression.

The Waldo Canyon WUI fire started on June 23, 2012, just southwest of Colorado Springs, Colo. By the time the blaze was declared contained on July 10, 2012, it left two people dead, destroyed 344 homes and damaged more than 100, burned 7,384 hectares (18,247 acres) and cost an estimated $454 million in insured losses.

The NIST study, conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the federal Joint Fire Science Program, documented and assessed the chronology, behavior and outcomes of the fire, as well the firefighting activity against it.

In their investigation, Maranghides and his colleagues focused on the Mountain Shadows community in Colorado Springs, the location for all of the homes destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire. The scientific analysis of the fire's impact on Mountain Shadows and the effectiveness of defensive measures taken to suppress it took two years to complete. Researchers spent 4,500 hours on data collection, conducted more than 200 technical discussions with first responders and made more than 4,500 distinct fire and defensive action observations.

Along with the most detailed timeline for a WUI fire ever created, the Waldo Canyon investigation yielded 37 technical findings that served as the basis for 13 technical recommendations aimed at improving community resilience to wildfires.

Among the key findings:

  • WUI fire dynamics change rapidly and require special consideration.

    "For example, if your home is nestled deep within a neighborhood away from the leading edge of a fire, you might not be at risk early on," Maranghides said. "However, the danger to your home dramatically increases if a neighboring house, the surrounding landscape or a nearby vehicle catches on fire."

  • WUI fires create "cascading ignitions."

    The intensity, spread and destructive power of a WUI fire increases rapidly as more and more structures are ignited. In the Waldo Canyon fire study, the researchers found that only 48 of the destroyed homes were ignited directly from the wildfire. Structure-to-structure spread from these early ignitions resulted in the cascading ignition of the other 296 destroyed homes.

  • Defensive measures were very effective in suppressing burning structures and containing the Waldo Canyon fire because they took WUI conditions into account.

    First responders were able to contain fire spread or "box in" much of the fire because they effectively assessed fire behavior, exposure risks to structures from fire and embers, and potential responses by structures to the changing conditions.

  • There was not a nationally accepted system available for preplanning the response to the Waldo Canyon event.

    Although firefighter response to the fire was effective, the researchers believe that pre-fire planning could have further enhanced the effort. Unfortunately, there currently is not a nationally accepted system on how to do preplanning for WUI fires. Such planning requires an intimate understanding of exposure risks and vulnerabilities--both for individual structures and the community as a whole. To help first responders and others to gain this understanding, NIST is developing both an in-the-field, two-tiered system for collecting data after WUI fires and a WUI Hazard Scale for predicting and mapping the ranges of exposure risks to fire and embers from a WUI event throughout a community.

Among the key technical recommendations:

  • Fire departments should develop, plan, train and practice standard operating procedures for responding to WUI fires in their specific communities.

    These procedures should result from scientifically mapping a community's high- and low-risk areas of exposure to both the fire and embers generated during WUI events (as will be possible using the WUI Hazard Scale).

  • A "response time threshold" for WUI fires should be established for each community.

    Fire departments have optimal "time-to-response" standards for reaching urban fires. Similar thresholds can, and should be, set for WUI fires.

  • High-density structure-to-structure spacing in a community should be identified and considered in WUI fire response plans.

    In the Waldo Canyon fire, the majority of homes destroyed were ignited by fire and embers coming from other nearby residences already on fire. Based on this observation, the researchers concluded that structure spatial arrangements in a community must be a major consideration when planning for WUI fires.

NIST's work on WUI fires is part of its ongoing programs for enhancing disaster resilience by reducing the risks of fires, earthquakes, windstorms and coastal inundation on buildings, infrastructure and communities, including facility occupants/users and emergency responders.

###

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. To learn more about NIST, visit http://www.nist.gov.

Media Contact

Michael E. Newman
michael.newman@nist.gov
301-975-3025

 @usnistgov

http://www.nist.gov 

Michael E. Newman | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Canyon Colorado NIST earthquakes wildfires

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
19.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland

19.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Not of Divided Mind

19.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Molecule flash mob

19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>