Urban Foresters Utilize Technology to Help Fire Departments Preempt Wildfire by Identifying High-Risk Hot Spots

Fire Departments Employ New Prevention Strategies to Become More Efficient

Aug 08, 2006, 01:00 ET from Dudek

    ENCINITAS, Calif., Aug. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- With the arrival of fire
 season, fire management professionals are hard at work responding to
 emergency calls, preparing for inevitable wildfires, or positioning
 themselves on the front lines fighting blazes.
     More recently, however, fire departments are turning to urban foresters
 and technology to augment their arsenal against wildfire. Foresters, with
 their technological toolkit, identify high-risk areas with dangerous,
 overgrown vegetation or narrow buffer zones and develop targeted plans for
 reducing these hazards.
     The City of Del Mar Fire Department is on the forefront of this trend.
 With the help of urban foresters and state-of-the-art geographic
 information system (GIS) based modeling software, fire professionals can
 analyze hazard areas to clearly identify high-risk zones and prepare an
 attack plan to remove hazardous fuels, lower potential threats to persons
 and property, and provide firefighters with "defensible space" with which
 they can more effectively control a fire's spread.
     While better known for its beautiful beaches and quaint downtown, Del
 Mar also has narrow and steep brush-covered canyons located next to
 multi-million dollar homes.
     "Fire prevention is a science," said David Ott, Del Mar Fire
 Department's fire chief. "It's not about clearing hundreds of feet of
 vegetation and facing environmental consequences; it's about thorough
 research to identify target areas and allocating an appropriate level of
 resources to mitigate risks."
     Unlike the Del Mar Fire Department's previous plans that called for
 broad prevention efforts, this new technology shows precisely where to
 target fuel volume and fuel continuity reduction efforts. With this
 information, Del Mar's crews now strategically reduce wildfire hazards
 while maintaining soil stability, sensitive species' habitats, aesthetics
 and resident privacy.
     "Fire prevention officers are familiar with the high-risk areas," said
 Michael Huff, urban forestry manager with Dudek, an Encinitas-based
 engineering and environmental consulting firm that works with numerous fire
 departments including Del Mar. "We combine their knowledge with our
 research and analysis, mapping this in GIS databases and running
 computerized fire behavior modeling programs. This output graphically
 represents high-risk areas for use in planning and designing
 environmentally-friendly fuel reduction efforts as well as in educating the
 community and decision-makers."
     In Del Mar, for example, it became evident that some ridge-top homes
 and primary evacuation routes did not have enough buffer area to reduce
 fire intensity to levels that would allow fire fighters a safe zone to
 defend homes and evacuate residents during a wildfire emergency. Dudek's
 field assessments and fire behavior modeling identified priority areas to
 receive targeted brush removal. Once completed, fire risk was reduced and
 defensible space was increased.
     As an added benefit, fire departments find the graphical
 representations assist in communications with city officials and community
 members. "These visuals are easy-to-understand," added Huff. "It makes the
 threat very apparent to the average citizen." This helps fire departments
 secure grants and additional city funds to continue their efforts in
 maintaining safe communities.
     About Dudek
     Dudek is a leading Southern California-based engineering and
 environmental consulting corporation that creatively solves regulatory
 challenges for municipal agencies and major land owners. The firm helps
 clients plan, design, construct and manage successful infrastructure and
 environmental projects that balance regulatory mandates and technical
 requirements within financial and scheduling goals. Founded in 1980, Dudek
 is headquartered in Encinitas in San Diego County with offices in Orange,
 Riverside and Santa Barbara counties. For more information, e-mail
     Christine Clinton