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Malcolm North: Climate Change and Wildfires

UC Davis experts: Wildfires

The following UC Davis experts are available to comment on wildfires in the West.

Wildfire, climate and plant communities

Mark Schwartz, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment, can discuss the impact of climate change on wildfires, as well as where and when plant communities are predicted to exhibit stress as a consequence of unusual climatic conditions, including wildfire. His work to help better predict fire behavior and forest vulnerabilities informs decisions about fire management decisions, including prescribed fire, fuels reduction, and management responses to wildfire events. Contact: Mark Schwartz, John Muir Institute of the Environment, (530) 752-0671, mwschwartz@ucdavis.edu.

Predicting fires from models

Donald Turcotte, a professor of geology at UC Davis, says the frequency of major forest fires can be predicted using relatively simple mathematical models based on the frequency of much smaller fires. Earthquakes, floods, landslides and fires all depend on "self-organized criticality" -- an accumulation of small changes that cause an abrupt change in the state of a system. For example, patches of new growth in a forest gradually form larger and larger areas of fuel that can cause a major wildfire. One implication of the model is that large fires are more likely to occur when fuel is allowed to build up because small fires are suppressed. Contact: Donald Turcotte, Geology, (530) 752-6808, dlturcotte@ucdavis.edu.

Evacuating animals from a fire area

Veterinarian John Madigan, a UC Davis authority on equine and emergency veterinary medicine, can discuss appropriate steps for evacuating pets that can mean the difference between life and death for animals caught  in the path of fire. This includes organizing carriers for pets, supplies for food and water at a new location, and important papers or medicines when a risk of fire coming into an area is identified. For larger animals, having transportation to load and move the animals to a safe area is essential. Other preparations can include lowering the risk for your home and stable areas. Livestock may need to be moved well in advance to safer areas by herding or organizing trailer transportation. All evacuations should be conducted when fire authorities indicate it is safe to do so. Never enter a fire area when an evacuation order has been issued. When in doubt, evacuate early and be safe. Contact: John Madigan, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, (530) 752-0290, jemadigan@ucdavis.edu.

Health effects from wildfires

Jerold Last is a professor of internal medicine in the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at UC Davis. He studies acute lung injury and pulmonary fibrosis caused by environmental agents, particularly in California. These agents include particulate matter from wildfires, ozone, agricultural dusts, and tobacco smoke. Contact: Jerold Last, Pulmonary Medicine, (530) 752-6230, jalast@ucdavis.edu.

Media Resources

Kat Kerlin, Research news (emphasis on environmental sciences), 530-750-9195, kekerlin@ucdavis.edu

Pat Bailey, 530-219-9640, pjbailey@ucdavis.edu

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