UC wildfire symposium focuses on wildland-urban interface

Photo of dry Berkeley hills
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
A second UC wildfire symposium was held Wednesday to discuss the wildland-urban interface in response to climate change and California's rapidly spreading fires.

Related Posts

UC scientists and researchers discussed fire in the wildland-urban interface, or WUI, at the second UC wildfire symposium Wednesday.

UC President Michael Drake began by explaining what was discussed in the first wildfire symposium before touching on the WUI, where the built environment comes in contact with the natural lands.

“Here in California, we are seeing firsthand how greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are contributing to record wildfires, extreme heat and drought,” Drake said during the symposium. “In our state and around the world, we must be able to adapt to and mitigate wildfire and climate impacts.”

Susan Hubbard, associate laboratory director of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Area at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, moderated the keynote session.

During the session, panelists shared what researchers have learned about these fires and what they are still trying to grasp.

“Wildfire is an essence; it’s an indivisible challenge,” Hubbard said during the session. “It can’t be tackled by any single technology or approach, any single discipline or any single organization.”

Steve Hawks, staff chief of the Cal Fire’s Wildfire Planning and Engineering Division, explained that while the wildfires in California have not changed, their intensities and sizes have.

The heat, dryness, low relative humidity and wind in California, along with the steep, diverse terrain and flammable vegetation, provide the perfect environment for fires, according to Hawks.

“There’s been a dramatic change over the last ten years driven by climate change,” said Michael Gollner, UC Berkeley mechanical engineering assistant professor, during the symposium. “The way we’ve managed our lands and removed fire and moved into the WUI, you can see that some of these fires — a small percentage — have become very large, and these large, rapidly spreading, intense fires threaten our communities.”

According to Gollner, the destruction from large fires such as the Camp Fire in 2018, the Atlas Fire and the Cedar Fire in San Diego resulted in significant financial, community and structural losses.

During the second panel, campus environmental health sciences professor John Balmes discussed air pollutants from wildfires and groups most vulnerable to the smoke, which includes young children and pregnant women. The health outcomes from fires can range from mental health issues to adverse birth outcomes, Balmes said.

Closing out the symposium, the final panel discussed WUI solutions, moderated by Wendy Powers, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources associate vice president. One of the solutions, brought up by the division’s area fire adviser Lenya Quinn-Davidson, was controlled burning.

“We have to start doing things differently and rethinking our approaches,” Quinn-Davidson said during the panel. “It’s time for us to be provocative around prescribed fire and innovative, and really to check our assumptions and our approach both to fire and prescribed fire.”

Contact Nida Yar-Khan at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @nidayarkhann.