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New maps emphasize the human factor in wildfire management

MADISON - As wildfires put more and more human lives and property at risk, people are looking to fire managers for protection.

Typically, fuel is the sole consideration used to decide the location of site treatments - where trees and shrubs are cleared away or burned in order to minimize the risk of a future fire. However, people also strongly affect wildfires.

This influence is not well understood, and is often overlooked when making management decisions.

To help fire managers identify the best locations for site treatments in one particularly fire-prone region in Southern California, a University of Wisconsin-Madison team developed a map that incorporates both environmental and human factors to pinpoint where the most devastating wildfires are likely to start in the Santa Monica Mountains, located just north of Los Angeles.

"The vegetation in Southern California is extremely flammable. In some places, it's like there is a continuous blanket of fuel on the ground," says Alexandra Syphard, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW-Madison department of forest ecology and management, who will give the talk. She notes that this fuel is easy tinder for cigarette butts, campfires run amok and the intentional flames of arsonists. Through these and other means, humans cause 95 percent of fires in southern California.

Most of these fires occur near the wildland-urban interface, where houses and other structures commingle with forests and other wild vegetation. "The wildland-urban interface is where houses are most vulnerable to fire because they are intermingled with fuel. The problem is that this is also where humans are most likely to start fires," says Syphard.

To generate her computer models, Syphard utilized a variety of data describing the Santa Monica Mountain region, including information about fire ignitions and the area burned by fires, the locations of human-built structures, roads, trails and the wildlan
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Contact: Alexandra Syphard
608-265-9219
University of Wisconsin-Madison
16-Nov-2006


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