In February, I received a 421-page paper in my inbox, detailing minute-by-minute the spread of the most destructive wildfire in modern California history. The meticulous research began as that fire—the Camp Fire—was still burning in the fall of 2018, and it has continued ever since, led by a team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
This report, the result of thousands of hours and the sort of interagency coordination that requires an alphabet of acronyms, is only one fraction of the work this team is putting into understanding just what happened to make this fire was devastating—and how other communities can avoid a similar fate.
I profiled the efforts of these NIST researchers in one of my latest features for Sierra Magazine, focusing on their efforts to create a framework that will allow them to compare fire risk between communities. As I wrote in the article:
“The hope is to create a yardstick for comparison, explains Alexander Maranghides, a fire protection engineer with NIST. ‘In Florida, you design for a hurricane category,’ he says. ‘In Los Angeles, you have seismic requirements and you’re saying, ‘OK, I’m going to design to a 7.5 on the Richter scale,’ or whatever number you choose.’
Such measures can serve as a powerful mitigation tool, allowing officials to plan and design for the unique threats their communities face.”