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UCR Wildfire Experts


UC Riverside Wildfire Experts

Faculty Bring a Variety of Expertise to Fire Stories

(September 23, 2004)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) Weather conditions, drought and an ongoing bark beetle infestation continue to raise the wildfire threat in Southern California, especially given the early start to this year’s fire season. University of California, Riverside faculty experts on these topics are available, and can add depth and meaning to journalists’ stories.

DROUGHT
Thomas Meixner
, assistant professor of hydrology and water resources, Department of Environmental Sciences.
He researches the effects of drought on the environment and how drought conditions contribute to the fire danger in the San Bernardino Mountains and on post-fire conditions that contribute to floods and mudslides. He works on measuring, understanding and modeling the processes that determine the water quality of streams. His research focuses on improving field techniques for measuring and incorporating the information revealed by these measurements into models of watershed water quality. The majority of his research has been conducted in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and the Sierra Nevada and San Bernardino Mountains of California.
Office phone: (951) 827-2356
Email: thomas.meixner@ucr.edu

FIRE ECOLOGY
Richard Minnich
, professor of geography, Department of Earth Sciences.
His specialty is fire ecology. He says the winds, the drought, the heat and the bark beetles have combined to create an unprecedented fire danger. Minnich can compare and contrast how fire suppression policy in Southern California and Baja California differ and how those differences affect the fire-health of wildlands in the two regions. Traditional fire suppression policy to put out the small fires that might clear away brush contribute to making the big fires, when they come along, worse than they might have otherwise been. "The danger of a half dead forest is absolutely phenomenal," he said of the conditions in the San Bernardino Mountains. For more than two years he has warned that the San Bernardino Mountains has become a tinderbox, which may touch off an inferno and that such fires would likely be unstoppable.
Office phone: (951) 827-5515
Email: richard.minnich@ucr.edu

FIRE BEHAVIOR
Shankar Mahalingam
, professor and chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Dr. Mahalingam's research focuses on the fluid dynamics of combustion, wildland fire modeling, and the chemical changes plants and other materials undergo during fires. He has written extensively about the behavior of fire as it burns Southern California’s chaparral vegetation. His wildland fire modeling is funded through the U.S. Forest Service and is conducted at the Forest Fire Laboratory in Riverside.
Office phone: (951) 827-2134
Email: shankar.mahalingam@ucr.edu

BARK BEETLE
Timothy Paine
, professor of entomology, Department of Entomology.
Dr. Paine has studied the Western Bark Beetle and other pests that target trees. “The drought conditions that exist in the mountains mean that the trees have been stressed and are highly susceptible to bark beetles.” It also means that the bark beetles themselves ran out of other sources of water and so targeted the trees. Bark Beetles, about the size of a grain of rice, lay their eggs inside trees and that eventually kills them. The dominant tree species in the San Bernardino Mountains is pine, and that is the prime target of the bark beetles.
Office phone: (951) 827-5835
Email: timothy.paine@ucr.edu

LAND DEVELOPMENT AND WILDLIFE
Tom Scott
, adjunct assistant professor in the department of Earth Science.
Professor Scott studies wildlife conservation and can speak to the effect wildfires have on animal habitat, and on the land that sits between the suburban developments of the cities and the tourist towns of the highlands. “We have 1,900 kilometers of houses that back up to wild lands in Riverside County alone,” he said. “How could we not have problems with that kind of juxtaposition of people and brush fire territory? Along that margin, anything can happen. This area fell between the cracks for decades.” Scott serves on the committee reviewing Riverside County’s Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
Office phone: (951) 827-5115
Email: Thomas.scott@ucr.edu

CHILD PSYCHOLOGY
Barbara Tinsley
, professor of psychology, Department of Psychology.
Professor Tinsley’s expertise in child psychology is valuable in explaining how parents might help children understand and cope with the threat of fire, whether the threat is near or far. When schools close or classmates evacuate, even children who are not directly affected by the fires have questions and concerns about their safety. Also, the images they see on TV might make them think that all of Southern California is on fire.
Office phone: (951) 827-3889
Email: barbara.tinsley@ucr.edu

AIR POLLUTION
Roger Atkinson
, director of the Air Pollution Research Center.
He specializes in the chemistry of organic compounds in the air. He said the smoke-filled skies downwind from wildfires pose a temporary health hazard. “The sensible thing to do right now is to stay inside, air condition and filter your air, and limit exposure to the smoke coming from the fires,” he said. The Air Pollution Research Center (APRC) was established by the Regents of the University of California in 1961 to conduct basic and applied research into photochemical air pollution.
Office phone: (951) 827-4191
Email: ratkins@ucrac1.ucr.edu

COMPUTER MODELING
Peter Sadler
, professor of geology, Department of Earth Sciences.
He gives presentations to explain the role of computer modeling in fire science. He has written graphical programs that model the long-term development of vegetation in response to wild fire, and allow scientists to study the role of nitrogen deposition on the Southern California landscape. His programs enable researchers to examine the long-term effects of changing the balance of wind, humidity, topography, vegetation age, and fire suppression efforts. However, his programs do not model the short-term effects in a way that can guide firefighters at a particular fire. He cannot comment on an active fire, its suppression, or its ecological impact.
Office phone: (951) 827-5616
Email: peter.sadler@ucr.edu


The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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