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Early fire risk for mountains near Los Angeles

Researchers at the University of Utah and elsewhere have developed a new way to predict when vegetation dries to the point it is most vulnerable to large-scale fires in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. And this years forecast says the highest-risk fire period will begin July 13 weeks earlier than usual.

Despite that, the new study also shows that unlike other areas of the western United States, global warming has not caused any apparent long-term trend toward early fire seasons in the Santa Monicas.

The scientists eventually hope to expand their unique fire-risk forecasting method to all of Southern California and beyond.

We developed a way to predict when the time of highest fire danger begins in the Santa Monica Mountains, based on the amount of spring precipitation, says the studys principal author, Philip Dennison, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah. We estimate that this year, the highest fire danger will begin July 13.

The study found the amount of March-April-May precipitation can be used to predict the date at which high fire-risk thresholds are reached.

Dennison says he hopes that in future years this method can be used to better plan for the start of high fire danger. Fire agencies could use this to help them plan where and when to put their people and equipment. Homeowners may find this useful for knowing when fire danger will be high so they can be better prepared to evacuate, clear brush from around their homes and watch for arsonists.

Study co-author Max Moritz, a wildland fire specialist at the University of California, Berkeley, adds: Although large fires still may be associated with autumn Santa Ana winds in Southern California, it appears the stage for these events is set much earlier than usual this year. Being prepared early is thus even more important than usual.

The study will be published later this year in the International
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Contact: Lee Siegel
leesiegel@ucomm.utah.edu
801-244-5399
University of Utah
1-Jul-2007


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