With the duties assigned to fire agencies becoming more daunting as the population continues to grow, and climatic conditions favor worse fire behavior, the service has adopted GIS as a means to combat these ever changing factors. In this blog, I briefly touch on some of the aspect that GIS software programs have been implemented in the fire service to help mitigate some of the issues related to the disasters they face on a daily basis.
Mendocino Complex Fire Summary
The Ranch fire, which is being managed as a part of the Mendocino Complex, Started on July 27th on the north bound side of highway 20, east of Lake Mendocino. Fuels in this area consisted of grass, brush and Oak trees. The grasses along the highway led the fire rapidly becoming established and making a run upslope to the east. Due to winds in the area the first resources on scene were not able to catch this fire in its initial stages.
The Second fire being managed under the Mendocino Complex is the River Fire. The River Fire began on the east side of Old River Road, nearly 7 miles southeast of Ukiah, CA. Similar to the Ranch fire, the River Fire began in grasses and became rapidly established making a run up slope to the Southeast. The two incidents spread in a very similar manner for the first 3 days due to both fires burning in identical fuel types, and experiencing the same wind conditions during the initial attack phase. This is depicted very well in the fire progression map provided by the incident management team below.
Mendocino Complex as of August 16, 2018
The type-1 incident management team has been making significant progress with suppression efforts on these two fires. Currently the River fire remains with 48,920 acres burn and is 100 percent contained. The Ranch Fire has now surpassed the Thomas in acreage and claimed the title of California’s Largest Wildfire in recorded history. The Ranch Fire is currently 317,117 acres with 69 percent containment. The main influence of the Ranch Fire during the upcoming operational will be winds speeds. With the predominant winds coming from the west, the fire will continue push east. As these winds diminish this evening the primary driving factor of fire spread will switch to the local topography. This will likely change the direction of spread to the northeast. With the fire continuing to spread to the Northeast, there will be no shortage of fuel as it furthers its destruction of the Mendocino National Forest. Fire crews have constructed containment lines in this area and are preparing for a firing operation if the opportunity presents itself.
Mendocino Complex Fire Facts
- As of: August 16th, 2018
- Location: Clear Lake, CA
- Size: 366,037 acres
- Containment: 76%
- Fire Behavior: Moderate Fire spread through heavy timber and brush in steep, rugged terrain.
- Structures Threatened: 1025
- Structures Destroyed: 147 Residences/118 Other
- Structure Damaged: 13 Residences/ 23 Other
- Evacuations: Are in place
- Incident Page: http://www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents/incidentdetails/Index/2175
- News Article: ABC 7
Have you ever wondered how home insurance companies deal with writing new policies in an ongoing disaster zone? Well the truthful answer is they don’t. For instance, when a large wildland fire is threatening homes or has the potential to, insurance carriers place a moratorium on the surrounding landscape. A moratorium is a temporary, but indefinite hold on writing any new home insurance policies within the blanket area that is declared. The purpose of this practice is to stop new customers who aren’t covered for fire, or other disaster related damages, from buying a policy right before the home is damaged. The problem is the geographic regions that are typically chosen for a moratorium are too large. The regions that are chosen usually include areas that are not threatened by the disaster in any way shape or form. This leaves an undesirable gap in business for both the insurers and possible policy holders. Here at RedZone we like to focus on utilizing technology coupled with expertise to solve complicated problems such as this one.
With advances in current wildfire modeling, insurance companies can have a more precise understanding of what is taking place on the ground currently, as well as what is likely to take place in the upcoming hours of the fire. Wildfire modeling accounts for the essential driving factors behind a wildfire so it can accurately depict where the fire is heading. You can read more about the aspects taken into account in RedZone’s Wildfire model here. By using a wildfire model, insurance companies can reduce the size of the geographic areas that are placed under a moratorium. Then the carriers will have an understanding of where the fire will be moving. This benefits both parties involved in many ways. If a home is not covered for wildfire, and a fire breaks out near the home it may spark an interest for the homeowner to obtain coverage on their home for fire. If the area that the home is located in is under a moratorium, the homeowner will not be able to purchase a policy for that type of coverage.
In the case of hurricanes, insurance carriers are even more precautious about writing new business when a storm of hurricane magnitude is approaching. The process of putting a moratorium in place for a storm begins when the National Weather Service declares a low pressure system to be of a tropical storm magnitude. You can learn more about hurricane formation and power at RedZone’s Blog on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Insurance companies immediately put a moratorium into effect for the projected zones that will be impacted by the incoming storm. These areas range from zip codes to counties and even expanding to encompass entire states that could possibly be impacted by the storm. A large portion of homes that are located in a moratorium of that size will likely not be affected by flooding or wind damage from the storm.
One of the ways that GIS (Geographic Information Systems) can help with this problem is with a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) Dataset. When loaded into a GIS this data will depict what the terrain on the ground will look like. These elevation layers coupled with flood plain data would give an accurate depiction of the level of threat to a structure. What has to be taken into account is that each storm is different. The flood data chosen must accurately match the expected rainfall from the storm in the general location. One solution is to utilize the most severe flood data available, so that the estimations are on the safer side. Another factor that needs to be considered is the damage that occurs from wind during one of these events. GIS is capable of running buffers based on the projected storm path. A buffer coinciding with the relative wind speeds that are capable of damaging homes would be a safe way of creating more accurate moratorium zones during a hurricane.
With climate change becoming more prevalent in recent years, science has been looking for ways to examine how changes to the earth’s present and past environment will affect the way wildfires will burn in the future. Fire regimes are a great start for looking into how climate change will affect the behavior, occurrence, and characteristics of how wildfires burn. According to Firescience.gov, the definition of a fire regime is “In general a fire regime characterizes the spatial and temporal patterns and ecosystem impacts of fire on the landscape”. Many characteristics of the environment go into shaping the fire regime in any given area.
Fire Regime Factors
Of the many factors within the environment that come into play when creating fire regimes, there are two critical aspects that shape how fires burn the most. The first of these two crucial factors is the dominant vegetation type within the ecosystem. Chemically, fires need three ingredients to burn, oxygen, heat, and fuel (vegetation). Therefore, if any one of these is removed an ignition cannot occur. History tells us that the type of vegetation is a key factor because of how large the difference in fire behavior is between fuel types. A second major factor involved in formulating a fire regime for a certain area is climate. The local weather patterns in an area have a huge impact on how a fire will burn through the geographic region in question.
In the formation of these regimes, fire ecologists have used data regarding vegetation classifications pertaining to the dominant vegetation type in the area. This is combined with historical fire information such as, fire perimeters, and fire conditions to get an understanding of how fire acts within the landscape. Lastly, fire return interval rates are used to determine, on average, how long it will take to have a fire reoccur in a landscape that has burned.
Fire Regime Classification
Over the years fire ecologists have made many attempts at creating fire regimes for the United States using a variety of weighted combinations and factors similar to what was mentioned above. Recently, one group has emerged with the most thorough and up to date classifications of fire regimes. LANDFIRE has created a robust model that incorporates the historical aspect of past fires, and what is projected for the future of the landscape. This will provide a base platform for future research to see how wildfires occurrence, and characteristics are changing as the climate continues to change. Below is a map of the United States classified by each regions respective fire regime as well as, the legend that explains what each level of classification means for that specific area.