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A Fire Engine for the Information Age

When fire engines race to the scene of homes threatened by a wildfire, it’s often too late. It’s common knowledge that fires are best fought through prevention, and now researchers are building a new kind of fire engine focused on just that.

A $1 million project funded largely by the U.S. Fire Administration, the “Fire Information Engine” under development at UC Berkeley will use geographic fire-hazard data to provide detailed, Web-based information on fire risks, and will rate the hazards on a parcel-by-parcel basis. Taking into account data such as slope steepness, vegetation density, building materials, accessibility, and defensible space, the tool will allow property owners, communities, and others to understand the fire hazards they face—and learn how to mitigate them.

The brainchild of Assistant Professor Max Moritz and Associate Professor Maggi Kelly, both of whom are also Cooperative Extension specialists in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, the Fire Information Engine is part of the researchers’ broader plan to build a scalable decision support system for the state of California. The project is the first venture of a new CNR Fire Center, which is co-directed by Moritz and Assistant Professor Scott Stephens. “In countless fire-prone landscapes, many people lack the fundamental understanding that devastating wildfires can and will happen in the future,” says Moritz. “By providing the tools to understand fire risks, we can begin to change behavior on a broad scale, including where and how we build our communities.”

-Cyril Manning

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