University of California, Riverside

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Fire Experts Available For Media

UC Riverside Offers Wildfire Experts

Faculty in a Variety of Areas are Ready to Talk to the Media

(October 27, 2003)

RIVERSIDE, Calif.— As fire continues to ravage Southern California, the University of California, Riverside offers a variety of faculty experts who can add depth and meaning to journalists’ stories about the firestorms of 2003.

The Economic Impact
Michael Bazdarich, director of the UC Riverside Forecasting Center.

Bazdarich provides financial market forecasting and advisory services to businesses, major financial institutions, portfolio managers and industrial corporations. The current firestorm will have a “perverse stimulative effect,” he recently told the New York Times. “As a society, we’re worse off because of the fires,” he said. But economic statistics look at output and that will be recorded as an “uptick” because of rebuilding efforts. Bazdarich produces the monthly “Inland Empire Review,” which presents analyses and forecasts based on current developments in the economy and the financial markets. Previously, he worked for the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco.
Office Telephone: (818) 249-3450
Mobile Telephone: (818) 266-6631

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. Meixner works on measuring, understanding and modeling the processes that determine the water quality of steams. His research focuses on improving field techniques for measuring and incorporating the information revealed by those measurements into models of watershed water quality. The majority of his research has been conducted in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Sierra Nevada and San Bernardino Mountains of California.
Office telephone: (909) 787-2356

Fire Ecology
Richard Minnich, professor of geography, Department of Earth Sciences.

His specialty is fire ecology. Minnich says the winds, the drought, the heat and the bark beetles have combined to create an unprecedented fire danger in the San Bernardino Mountains. He also said our traditional fire suppression policy has been to put out the small fires that might clear away dense brush. So when the big fires come, they are worse than they otherwise might have been. “The energy of this fire is enormous,” he said. “The danger of the half-dead forest is absolutely phenomenal.” He has been saying for more than a year that the San Bernardino Mountains would eventually become an inferno, and that the fire is likely to be unstoppable. Minnich said residents should be evacuated, not only in the lower communities, but also all the way up the mountain. “These are unprecedented conditions,” he said. “If it were me, I would have gotten out last Wednesday.” On the Simi Hills fire, most of what is burning is grasslands. He wonders why those grasslands are not used for grazing as a method of keeping the grass down low.
Office telephone: (909) 787-5893

Fire Behavior
Shankar Mahalingam, professor and chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

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 agency’s Forest Fire Laboratory in Riverside.
Office telephone: (909) 787-2134

Bark Beetle
Timothy Paine, professor of entomology, Department of Entomology.

Paine has studied the Western Bark Beetle and other pests that target trees. “The drought conditions that exist in the mountains means 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 have targeted trees. The resulting fire danger is unprecedented. Bark Beetles are about he size of a grain of rice. They lay their eggs inside the trees and that kills them. The dominant species in the San Bernardino Mountains is pine, and that is the prime target of the bark beetles.
Office telephone: (909) 787-5835

Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist at UC Riverside’s Entomology Museum.

He can speak generally about the Western Bark Beetle’s role in infesting and killing thousands of trees in the San Bernardino Mountains, trees made vulnerable by drought. Those trees are now dead or dying, fueling the fires and creating an extreme and unprecedented danger to homes and property.
Office telephone: (909) 787-4315

Land Development and Wildlife
Tom Scott, adjunct assistant professor in the department of Earth Sciences.

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 wildlands 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: (909) 787-5115
Mobile phone: (909) 961-4670,

Child Psychology
Barbara Tinsley, professor of psychology, Department of Psychology.

Tinsley has expertise in child psychology. She can explain how parents might help children understand the scope of the fires, whether the threat is near or far. With some schools closed, even children who are not directly affected by the fires have questions and concerns about their own safety. Also, the images they seen on TV might make them think that all of Southern California is on fire or threatened by the blazes.
Office telephone: (909) 787-3889

Air Pollution
Roger Atkinson, director of the Air Pollution Research Center.

He specializes in the chemistry of organic compounds in the air. Atkinson said the current smoke-laden skies are a temporary hazard. “The sensible thing to do right now is to stay inside, air condition and filter your air, and limit the exposure to smoke from the fires,” he said. The Regents of the University of California established the Air Pollution Research Center (APRC) in 1961 to conduct basic and applied research into photochemical air pollution.
Office telephone: (909) 787-4191

Paul Ziemann, associate professor of atmospheric chemistry, Department of Environmental Sciences.

Zeimann is also affiliated with the APRC. He studies particle formation. The Regents of the University of California established the APRC in 1961 to conduct basic and applied research into photochemical air pollution. Over the past three decades, the APRC researchers have been at the forefront of research into the particular chemical reactions in compounds released into the air from a variety of sources.
Office telephone: (909) 787-5127

The University of California, Riverside ( 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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