- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Besides starting fires for the sake of research, Luca Carmignani, UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties, has started leveraging his connection to local UC campuses by providing opportunities for hands-on learning.
Early one morning in May, students and staff from UC Irvine and UC Riverside gathered at the South Coast Research and Extension Center to collect data for their own research projects. South Coast REC, located in Irvine, is part of a statewide network of research and education facilities operated by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
In one area of the field, graduate students picked leaves and twigs from dried shrubs, carefully placing them in a device that measures moisture content. In another area, a postdoctoral scholar set up a device that records levels of particulate matter, carbon dioxide and other air pollutants emitted by a fire.
Tirtha Banerjee, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Irvine, coordinated the field day with Carmignani. The two first connected as members of iFireNet, an international network of networks that connect people to fire research, when Carmignani was a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley.
Now, the two are collaborating to help environmental science and engineering students realize the potential of their research interests.
Jacquelynn Nguyen, a Ph.D. student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at UC Irvine, is interested in understanding how ash from wildfires and prescribed burns can be used as a treatment for per- and polyfluorinated substances. PFAS are a group of “forever chemicals” that can be found in heat-resistant materials – including fire extinguisher foam – and are extremely difficult to eliminate.
Before Nguyen could collect her ash samples, Carmignani needed to cautiously set the dried shrubs on fire, providing a realistic situation for data collection purposes.
“We're trying to figure out if the ashes from these fires can be used as activated carbon, which could be used as a treatment for PFAS,” said Nguyen. “We want to see if this treatment can basically absorb PFAS and prevent it from traveling into soil and groundwater.”
While Nguyen is concerned about the impact that wildfires have on the land, Soroush Neyestani, a postdoctoral scholar in the Environmental Sciences department at UC Riverside, is interested in its impact on the air quality.
During a fire, it's difficult to determine how much emissions are a result of flames versus smoldering, the process of burning slowly with smoke but no flames, and current air quality models do not provide accurate guidance on this matter. Using an air quality sensor, Neyestani wants to quantify the difference in emission levels during the two phases.
“There are assumptions that 50% of emissions come from smoldering, but every fire is different. Our main objective is to improve the accuracy of air-quality forecasting,” Neyestani said, noting his concern that these assumptions might not be realistic.
Although the field day was created with the students in mind, Carmignani used the opportunity to polish his own research efforts. Since fall 2022, he has been investigating the flammability of low-water use landscape plants based on various irrigation applications.
“Every time we burn, I feel like we get better. We get better data, and we conduct better analysis, and that's really important for us so that we can figure out how we can apply our research and measure its outcome,” said Carmignani.
In addition to welcoming more collaborations with UC campuses and other organizations, Carmignani is hopeful that these combined research efforts will spark an interest in wildfire awareness everywhere.
- Author: Kathryn Low
University of California Cooperative Extension has recently expanded their team of fire advisors and staff. This new group of UCCE fire professionals is interested in learning about the concerns of the communities that UCCE serves, as well as the natural resource professionals already working to address these issues.
Results from this survey will enhance the team's ability to partner with residents, landowners, agencies, academics, and other organizations to reduce California's vulnerability to wildfires. These new advisors will also share survey results with UCCE colleagues throughout the state, who already provide important fire-related programming across diverse landscapes and audiences.
"Wildfires will continue to affect all Californians, either directly or indirectly," said Katie Low, UCCE statewide fire coordinator. "It's invaluable to have the input of as many people as possible to guide the development of our wildfire-related extension programs, so that they can provide the most useful resources and information to communities across California."
The survey asks questions about topics such as:
- Gaps within existing educational programming and resources
- Challenges community members are facing in addressing wildfire risk
- Empowerment of communities to make property management decisions and prepare for wildfire
- Acceptability of prescribed fire and other fuels treatments
By participating in this study, you can choose to enter a drawing to win one of fifty $20 VISA gift cards.
To take the online survey, please visit https://bit.ly/UCCE_Fire_Survey.
This research is being led by a team of new UCCE fire advisors and staff. If you have any questions about this survey, please contact the fire/forestry professionals involved in this survey effort:
- Luca Carmignani, UCCE fire advisor for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Alison Deak, UCCE fire advisor for Fresno, Madera, and Mariposa counties, email@example.com
- Katie Low, UCCE fire academic coordinator for Nevada and Placer counties, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Barb Satink Wolfson, UCCE fire advisor for Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties, email@example.com
- Ryan Tompkins, UCCE forestry advisor for Plumas, Sierra, and Lassen counties, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about wildfire-related programming from University of California Cooperative Extension, please visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/ or the Facebook page https://bit.ly/fireSolutions./span>/span>