UCI-led research recommends expanding Califor

Irvine, California, May 16, 2022 – Prescribed burning of shrubs, branches and leaves at ground level is a proven tool to help prevent wildfires from spiraling out of control, but a team led by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, suggests that the practice is not used frequently. sufficient.

For an article recently published in the journal Total Environmental Sciencescientists conducted an extensive assessment of weather and vegetation data spanning 35 years, finding several additional periods during winter and spring when wind, temperature and humidity levels would allow safe and efficient human fires.

Labeled “Rx burns” by prescribed fire experts, these generally low-intensity fires consume surface fuels on the forest floor while preserving trees. Prescribed burns can revitalize forest ecosystems and reduce the intensity of wildfires during an outbreak, creating safer working conditions for firefighters. Another method often used is the mechanical thinning of forests, which encounters fewer public policy obstacles, but is not as effective.

“Wildfires in California have worsened every year for the past few decades, due to factors including climate change and a century-long fire deficit coupled with a buildup of vegetation and fuels,” said study leader Tirtha Banerjee, UCI assistant professor of civil and environmental sciences. engineering. “Prescribed burns can help alleviate this problem, but only if done with adequate frequency and over a large enough area where they are needed.”

According to the study, about 40% of controlled burns take place in the fall, about 25% in the winter and again in the spring, and about 10% in the summer. Spring, winter and fall have comparable burn efficiency rates, that is, the ratio of acres burned to burns per season. This means that the number of burns in winter and spring could be increased, especially in northern California.

However, the study found that the number of days with favorable weather conditions for prescribed burns decreases by one day per year in winter and spring, according to lead author Janine Baijnath-Rodino, UCI postdoctoral researcher in civil engineering. and environmental. “Now is the time to capitalize on these burn opportunities before they become less frequent in the future,” she said.

The study also addressed outdated thinking about the licensing process. “For example, research has shown that although fall is the most optimal season for Rx burns, clearance does not begin until the core of that season is over,” she said. Compounding the problem, California residents’ fears that prescribed fires are inadvertently escaping may pressure authorities to scale back controlled burns and create difficulties in approving future burning plans.

“Limited burn windows are one of the biggest barriers to running more prescribed fires in California,” Banerjee added. “We hope the results of this study will inspire policy changes to address this situation.”

Shu Li and Mukesh Kumar, Ph.D. UCI, joined Banerjee and Baijnath-Rodino on this project. Banerjee Research Group students in Civil and Environmental Engineering; former UCI Ph.D. student Alexandre Martinez; Lenya Quinn-Davidson, California University of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Robert York, UC Berkeley. The work was funded by the Office of the President of the University of California as part of the SPARx project (Transforming Prepressed Fire Practices for California: Smart Practices and Architectures for Rx fires, led by Banerjee) and by the National Science Foundation and the United States. Department of Agriculture.

About University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the top 10 public universities in the nation by US News and World Report. The campus has produced five Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, leading research, innovation, and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. It is located in one of the safest and most vibrant communities in the world and is the second largest employer in Orange County, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion globally. of State. To learn more about the UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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