Interactive map shows if your house is more susceptible to wildfires

Schmidt says the map is based on remote sense information, Landsat, from NASA that captured images of vegetation in the area.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 3:50 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An Anchorage assistant professor has worked to produce a new way to determine how susceptible Alaskan homes may be to wildfires.

A new map has been developed by Jennifer Schmidt — an assistant professor of natural resource management at the University of Alaska Anchorage — that shows the wildfire danger within the Municipality of Anchorage, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and Whitehorse in the Yukon.

Schmidt says the map is based on remote sense information, Landsat, from NASA that captured images of vegetation in the area.

“When you look at vegetation, you look at the torching potential, you look at the flammability, and that goes into a hazardous fuel score,” Schmidt said. “That hazardous fuel score, it’s not just what’s right ... at your house, but around your house because of those embers.”

Schmidt said this is part of a national science foundation funded project that started in 2019. Schmidt began working with people from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Californians who have worked on vegetation modeling, and people across the Municipality of Anchorage.

“It took awhile to develop the methods that we’re going to use, but there was this nice NASA product which has vegetation from ‘84 to 2014,” Schmidt said. “So we can look at wildfire hazards over 40 years.”

Schmidt has previously done projects around vegetation in Anchorage and went through and added a hemlock layer to the map because she said it has a lower flammability rate than other plants, and it was one of the things the NASA maps did not include.

“My hope is that it increases awareness of wildfire hazards that we have in our community and kind of prompts people to maybe do some fire wise activities around their house,” Schmidt said.

Some of the fire wise prep near the home includes:

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
  • Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
  • Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
  • Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
  • Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.

“It also can be used to look at where wildfire might enter into a community or neighborhoods and prioritize mitigation actions such as fuel treatments or vegetation thinning, looking at access routes where might it go through areas that have highly flammable fuel, maybe thinning those areas out,” Schmidt said. “So it can be used both at the household level, but also at the community level to help reduce our wildfire hazards.”

Schmidt is excited that her research can be useful for many residents in Alaska.

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