As firefighters begin to get the upper hand on the Southern California wildfires, the co-director of the UC Berkeley fire center had the opportunity to give Los Angeles Times readers a glimpse of research underway on this perennial threat.
Max Moritz and his colleague Alex Hall of UCLA are mapping Santa Ana wind corridors in Southern California. The Santa Anas blow when desert winds push down canyons over passes and low mountains, warming and gaining speed along the way, according to the Times article. Fires tend to rage along specific corridors. A corridor along the Santa Susanna Pass, for example, has burned 12 times since 1925 and may have burned a 13th time this week, the article said.
"It's really a striking pattern," Moritz was quoted. "Our preliminary work shows that these corridors line up well with fire history patterns, fire frequency and fire size."
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United States Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) will see 4-H's National Science Experiment first hand when he visits "Lights On Afterschool," a community event slated for Thursday evening in downtown Merced, according to UC Cooperative Extension 4-H advisor Richard Mahacek.
Lights On Afterschool (LOA) is a national public awareness effort to promote high quality out-of-school learning opportunities to children and youth. 4-H is a national partner.
In Merced, two blocks of Main Street will be closed from 6 to 8 p.m. for LOA displays and activities. The 4-H display includes its portable 4-H Science Center and the materials for the "National Science Experiment," which was conducted by children all over the country on Oct. 8.
The experiment involves cutting into a new disposable baby diaper and separating the powdery hydrogel polymer from the other stuffing. The polymer is then combined with water to create a gooey solid. According to the National Geographic description of the 4-H experiment, adding hydrogels to the soil in the right proportions permits gardens, landscapes and farms to survive on 60 to 80 percent less water
If all goes according to plan, the congressman will spend half an hour at the 4-H display, where he will be recognized for his support of the 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology program.
For more information, see the National 4-H Council's media advisory./span>
An old-time 4-H science experiment.
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Unfortunately, Santa Ana winds are as reliable a part of Southern California's autumn as colorful fall foliage is for New England. Santa Anas are strong, extremely dry offshore winds often associated with the warmest weather and fiercest fires in the southern part of the state; 2008 is no exception.
According to the Associated Press, powerful winds stoked three major wildfires this morning after destroying dozens of homes, forcing thousands to flee and killing two people.
An article in the New York Times said firefighters have mounted an all-out air and land assault as the flames and smoke chased residents from their homes, threatened neighborhoods, closed schools and parts of two major freeways, and led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Times reporter Randall Archibold sought insight about the fire from Scott Stephens, the co-director of the Center for Fire Research and Outreach at UC Berkeley.
“We always think of fires moving as a wave, but fires move under the Santa Ana winds by leapfrog,” Stephens was quoted. “There are hundreds of waves, and as the embers hop in front, the fire could be starting a mile or two behind. That’s why it can jump an eight-lane highway.”
Meantime, the Merced Sun-Star picked up a UC ANR news release about a new interactive Web site designed by UC Berkeley fire researchers that allows Spanish-speaking homeowners to assess the risk of wildfire damage to their houses and communities. The service, found at http://firecenter.berkeley.edu, was already available in English.
UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension wildland fire specialist Max Moritz was quoted in the release about the online toolkit:
"What's new about these tools is that homeowners and community officials can get an individualized assessment of a specific building's fire risk based upon such factors as the material used in their roof construction or the density of vegetation near the structure. The toolkit then provides immediate feedback that helps identify areas where people would get the biggest payoff in mitigation."