Innovative wildfire research could prove invaluable during drought

Innovative wildfire research could prove invaluable during drought

07 April 2011

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USA — The wildfire threat in Central Texas is now at a critical level.  Dramatic research is hoping to better prepare homeowners in the event of a wildfire. 

Researchers learned in most cases it’s not the big flames that end up burning down homes.  It’s little things, like embers in the air that land on roof tops or end up going into vents or under homes.

Video that shows embers shooting onto the roof of a house and later engulfing it in flames, was taken inside of the massive test chamber at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety Research Center in South Carolina.  It’s the first full scale wildfire test in a controlled environment.  Researchers hope to learn how property owners can better reduce their vulnerability and make their property more resistant to wildfire.

Last month, Bastrop County resident Silas Powell was watering his yard to prevent a 36-acre brushfire from jumping McAllister Road and threatening his home.

“I was hosing down my yard just trying to keep any of the embers from coming over,” said Powell.  “The fire was certainly far enough away.  The flames themselves certainly weren’t  going to leap, but I was more concerned about the embers coming across and getting something ignited.”

We showed Powell the video from the IBHS Research Center. Having lived in the Pine Forest neighborhood for four years, Powell has already taken preventive action by trimming back some trees, and removing dying and low lying vegetation.

“One of the things our neighborhood association is really stressing for people to do is to try to protect the environment, and try to leave it as much as a natural forest as possible, but at the same time realize that you have to protect your home,” said Powell. 

Wednesday, one Bastrop County resident wasn’t so fortunate.  A day later, trees were still smoldering.

“This little cabin did not have skirting,” said Lexi Maxwell, a Public Information Officer with the Texas Forest Service.  “All the vegetation on a windy day could blow up underneath, and it also allowed the embers and fire brands to blow underneath and ignite that vegetation which ended up costing the structure.”

The Texas Forest Service says as the weather patterns continue to warm up and we have more windy days, our drought-stressed area is going to see more wildfires. 

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