SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — As thousands evacuated Sonoma County over the weekend as the Kincade Fire grew in size, one Bay Area researcher headed toward the massive flames.
San Jose State Professor of Meteorology Craig Clements, who is also the director of the university’s Fire Research Lab, is collecting data on wildfires to one day help firefighters predict fire behavior and even save lives.
“We’re using these models to predict where the fire’s going to go and what communities have to be evacuated,” Clements said. “So if we could get these models more accurate, with this technology and with these observations, then everybody wins.”
Clements helped build two mobile fire research labs–one with doppler lidar, the other with radar. He said the vehicles collect data, which they analyze to help better understand wildfire behavior and how the massive flames create their own weather pattern.
Since 2013, Clements has taken out the truck to more than 30 wildfires, many times with his students.
“That’s probably the most wildfires sampled on planet Earth in a meteorological framework for sure, because we’re the only team that does it,” he said.
He said the strong winds over the weekend dominated the Kincade Fire, creating an impressive flame show he’s never seen before. His radar measured winds at 50 miles per hour at the surface of the fire and 70 miles per hour 1,000 feet above the ground.
“Those were some of the most extreme flame lanks I’ve ever seen, I mean hundreds of feet,” Clements said.
Part of his research over the weekend was collecting data on flying debris in the Kincade Fire that he said could one day eventually warn communities before it’s too late.
“That’s one of our ultimate goals so we can basically, in real time, track where maybe the embers are going before they fall on the ground,” he said.
Clements said it’ll likely be about two more years before his equipment is able to predict what direction a fire is headed.
He and his students plan to head out to the Kincade Fire Tuesday afternoon when winds are expected to pick up again.