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NIST recommends using hazard scale to fight wildfires

Researchers suggested that firefighters be retrained to handle megafires like the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire

The Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A group of wildfire researchers are calling for a new national approach to firefighting that is designed to handle megafires such as the Waldo Canyon fire that burn between the wilderness and cities.

In a study on the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire released Monday by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, researchers painstaking detailed the firefighting effort to save hundreds of homes from a firestorm on June 26, 2012. While crews were enormously successful - and saved homes 75 percent of the time - the report found that country’s firefighters must be retrained to handle fires like Waldo, said Alex Maranghides, a lead researcher on the study.

“It’s a new approach to firefighting, it’s not a question of adapting,” said Maranghides on Monday just after he addressed a White House summit on climate change and wildfires.

Maranghides and other researchers spent two and half years collecting data for the study, a process that included interviewing hundreds of firefighters throughout the country who had worked to save homes during the Waldo Canyon fire. The team of researchers traced firefighters to every block and neighborhood in order to piece together the events of the night when hundreds of homes burned in a matter of hours.

Maranghides has no doubt that firefighter efforts kept the catastrophic fire, which destroyed 347 homes, from destroying more. But that success was due to well-trained crews, who adapted - U.S. Forest Service crews trained to fight wildfires protected structures, and urban firefighters helped extinguish grassfires.

“We have how-to books for fighting wildland fires, we have how-to books for fighting urban fires, but we don’t have how-to books for fighting wildland urban interface fires,” said Maranghides. “It’s really in its infancy.”

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