State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

How Agencies and Communities Facing Wildfire Can Collaborate to Cut Risk Now

The latest news-making wildfire, named the NCAR Fire for the National Center for Atmospheric Research near where it was sparked on March 26 in Boulder, Colorado, ended up burning out safely. It may even have acted as a small unplanned “prescribed burn,” cutting combustibility ahead of the hotter fire season to come.

But the blaze serves as a reminder that communities built in ecosystems prone to fire in a human-heated climate have to be vigilant and proactive. “Should an ignition have occurred [in] exactly the same place during one of Boulder’s infamous downslope windstorms, it could have been a catastrophic event,” tweeted Daniel Swain, an expert in Western wildfire at the University of California, Los Angeles, and NCAR’s Center for Climate & Weather Extremes.

home damaged by fire
Damage from the 2021 Marshall Fire. Photo: Bmurphy380/Wikimedia Commons

Just three months ago, Boulder County saw a thousand homes and businesses, most in urban and suburban settings thought safe, destroyed in the drought- and wind-driven Marshall Fire.

To explore pathways to proactive risk reduction in such regions, I took my first work trip in nearly two and half years last week. I was invited to run my Sustain What webcast from the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C.

I sat down there with Deanne Criswell, the administrator of FEMA — with decades of experience in firefighting and emergency management starting in the Colorado Air National Guard — and Lori Moore Merrell, administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration, who has similarly deep roots in firefighting in Memphis, Tenn., combined with a doctorate melding public health and data science in pursuit of more effective fire prevention and response. Here’s the video:

Read the rest of the post, including a transcript, on the Sustain What blog.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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