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Simulating The Weather Created By Fire In New Study

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Pacific Southwest Region 5, courtesy of CAL FIRE
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California's 2014 King Fire

A recent study is helping researchers understand the role of wind in the largest forest fires.

Megafires are large, hard-to-manage burns with big economic costs.

"These big fires are really hard to deal with," said Natasha Stavros with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

Stavros and several other researchers recently set out to understand what made one such megafire grow so big, so fast. They looked at California’s King Fire. The blaze that burned nearly 100,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 2014.

They created a computer model using aerial data of the fire area before and after the burn. Stavros said the model showed scientifically what some wildland firefighters already know.

"And that’s that fires generate their own winds," she said.

According to their research, fire-created wind played an even larger role than California’s drought or the fuel it burned.

Stavros said this research provides new information that could help us rethink and reprioritize our fire management policies.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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