Post Wildfire Hazards

Wildfire HazardsPhoto Source: USDA Forest Service

As we have watched wildland fires advance across the western US, the Economist declared, “this the worst fire season the American West has ever seen”.  Wildfires are causing serious damage to the landscape, and unfortunately, a significant number of structures and assets.  As the seasons shift, so too does the weather danger.  When most of the vegetation is removed by fire, rainfall can cause landslides, debris flows and flash floods. From the intense heat, soil can become hydrophobic, increasing runoff and potential flooding.  The NASA Earth Observatory states, “teams will be especially keen to prepare for the risk of mudflows and landslides, as winter rain and snow will soon be falling on bare  hills.”                                                                                           

Based on the 2020 California wildfire season to date, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), another key organization has started mapping such threats.

For many years FTS has worked with the USGS to assist with post wildfire hazards, as well as numerous state and local agencies.  The primary risk is rainfall rate and quantity in these fire scarred areas.  To help monitor these conditions, FTS has a range of real-time options including:

All of these options can be deployed in fixed or portable configurations depending on requirements.  The systems are available in solar powered or AC options, and with either cellular or satellite communications.  In addition to rainfall these systems are extensible to address parameters for water level, temperature, wind speed and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture, and more.

FTS360 provides the reliable, secure, web-based software for command and control, as well as advanced alerting and notifications to the agency and the general public for the options listed above.

As part of the AEM family of innovators,  FTS is pleased to have a sister company with deep analysis and forecasting expertise in post wildfire risks, to provide a combined offering to the market. Vieux & Associates is an engineering technology firm specializing in radar rainfall / runoff software, products, and services. Their advanced hydrologic modeling and forecasting systems provide world-class flood warning systems.

As Jean Vieux notes,

“Wildfire changes the landscape in obvious ways such as removal of vegetation, but in less obvious ways like reduced infiltration capacity depending on the heat of the fire. The combined changes to the environment increase flood potential and debris flow or landslide hazards. Monitoring rain rates and modeling runoff over the burn scars can provide advanced warning and lead time to take protective actions. Getting the rainfall right over large areas can be difficult. The variable nature of precipitation demands high resolution that can be achieved through a combination of rain gauges and weather radar.  Current and forecast rainfall using this combination of sensors allows precious time to be proactive and to reduce risk and exposure to flooding or debris flow.”

Vieux & Associates offer Gauge Adjusted Radar Rainfall (GARR) that delivers accurate and reliable rainfall data, providing rainfall between the rain gauges.  This is particularly useful municipal and regional government’s concerned about burn areas, stormwater and/or flood events.  More broadly, outside of post-fire applications, their FloodVieux package addresses flash flood requirements as was highlighted in Stormwater Magazine May 2017.

For more information on FTS and Vieux solutions, please contact us.

Authors:  Bill England, FTS and Jean Vieux, Vieux & Associates

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