Under new climate regimes, massive wildfires have become more the norm than the exception around the world. New patterns of heat and drought brought on by the climate crisis – coupled with decades of fire suppression that ignored traditional indigenous land management practices and failed to keep pace with changing forests and exponential growth of the wildland-urban interface – have resulted in vast infernos in many places around the world.

Recognizing a growing need, researchers and staff from across Stanford have brought a wide range of approaches, experiences, and disciplines to bear to identify the causes and consequences of changing fire patterns, inform wildfire management, and mitigate risks to human health and infrastructure near and far. The stories below provide a taste of their work – from creative innovations, like graduate students designing a board game that simulates cooperative wildfire preparation and recovery, to on-the-ground efforts like clearing vegetation and grazing goats to reduce potential wildfire fuel on university lands.

Learn more about ongoing wildfire research by Stanford scholars at wildfire.stanford.edu.

Resilient power grids

Stanford research finds low-income communities in California face a “wildfire safety deficit” as a result of longstanding policies about who should pay to move power lines underground.

How to climate-proof schools

Revamping schools to withstand what’s coming

Better predictions of wildfire spread may sit above the treetops

Understanding the physics of wind currents above forest canopies may help wildfire managers forecast the flight paths of dangerous burning embers, or firebrands, which are responsible for most home destruction during wildfires.

Hackathon focused on equity, prediction, mitigation of wildland fires

Students harnessed the power of big data with the guidance of faculty and industry mentors to propose groundbreaking solutions to wildland fire issues in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability’s Big Earth Hackathon.

Empowering private landowners to prevent wildfires

Controlled burning has proven effective at reducing wildfire risks, but a lack of insurance has dissuaded private landowners from implementing the practice. Policy expert Michael Wara discusses soon-to-be-enacted legislation that would pay for fire damages to neighboring properties in California.

Wildfire smoke is unraveling decades of air quality gains

Stanford researchers have developed an AI model for predicting dangerous particle pollution to help track the American West’s rapidly worsening wildfire smoke. The detailed results show millions of Americans are routinely exposed to pollution at levels rarely seen just a decade ago.

Wildfire smoke exposure hurts learning outcomes

Pollution from wildfires is linked to lower test scores and possibly lower future earnings for kids growing up with more smoke days at school, a new study finds. Impacts of smoke exposure on earnings are disproportionately borne by economically disadvantaged communities of color.

Zombie forests

The researchers created maps showing where warmer weather has left trees in conditions that don’t suit them, making them more prone to being replaced by other species. The findings could help inform long-term wildfire and ecosystem management in these “zombie forests.”

Wildfire exacerbates disparity, study shows

New research from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Stanford University indicates that while maps of wildfire hazard suggest that higher-income communities are more at risk, low-income communities across the state tend to experience fires more frequently.

CAL FIRE selects student wildfire projects

Fighting fire after fire in ever-growing wildfire seasons, CAL FIRE is in search of innovative prevention and response strategies. Stanford students address this need by successfully tackling some of the biggest problems in wildfire management with fresh perspectives.

The heat is on

Stanford faculty are blazing paths in fire control and prevention to help us live in a changed climate.

AI system identifies buildings damaged by wildfire

A deep learning approach to classifying buildings with wildfire damage may help responders focus their recovery efforts and offer more immediate information to displaced residents.

Stanford ramps up work to reduce wildfire risk on university lands

The university is taking a comprehensive and coordinated management approach to reducing wildfire risks in response to hotter and drier conditions that are creating more dangerous annual fire seasons.

Wildfire burn area

Rapidly growing communities in the American West’s forests and shrublands are nestled in zones where local soil and plant traits amplify the effect of climate change on wildfire hazards and lead to bigger burns.

Stanford’s Buzz Thompson on California’s wildfires, water, drought, and climate change

Buzz Thompson joins Stanford Legal for a radio interview on the state of California's current wildifire season and its implications for the future.

How do people respond to wildfire smoke?

Interviews with Northern California residents reveal that social norms and social support are essential for understanding protective health behaviors during wildfire smoke events – information that could be leveraged to improve public health outcomes.

Wildfire smoke and early births

Smoke from wildfires may have contributed to thousands of additional premature births in California between 2007 and 2012. The findings underscore the value of reducing the risk of big, extreme wildfires and suggest pregnant people should avoid very smoky air.

A new wildfire strategy for California

California may be headed for another record-breaking wildfire season. Stanford researchers discuss the shift in federal, state and local approaches necessary to turn the tide of destruction.

Wildfire solutions

The Biden administration has an opportunity to rewrite the playbook on combatting wildfires. Stanford research and expertise point toward bipartisan solutions that reset priorities, change mindsets and employ new technologies.

The shifting burden of wildfires in the United States

Wildfire smoke will be one of the most widely felt health impacts of climate change throughout the country, but U.S. clean air regulations are not equipped to deal with it. Stanford experts discuss the causes and impacts of wildfire activity and its rapid acceleration in the American west.

How soil fungi respond to wildfire

When wildfires swept through the North Bay in 2017, graduate student Gabriel Smith saw a unique opportunity to study how fire affected his research subject: soil fungi.

Predicting wildfires with CAT scans

Engineers at Stanford have used X-ray CT scans, more common in hospital labs, to study how wood catches fire. They’ve now turned that knowledge into a computer simulation to predict where fires will strike and spread.

California wildfires shrink partisan differences about climate change

New survey findings suggest that wildfires tearing through the state may bring Democrats and Republicans closer together in support of climate resilience measures.

Traditional fire management could help revitalize American Indian cultures

In collaboration with tribes in Northern California, researchers examined traditional fire management practices and found that these approaches, if expanded, could strengthen cultures and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

Living with fires: Mitigating risks with law and environmental policy

Stanford Law Professor Deborah Sivas discusses the effects of climate on fires in California and policy changes that might lessen their danger on residents.

Wildfire weather

Unusual lightning strikes sparked the massive wildfires burning across California. Stanford climate and wildfire experts discuss extreme weather’s role in current and future wildfires, as well as ways to combat the trend toward bigger, more intense conflagrations.

Wildfires’ health impacts

California’s massive wildfires bring a host of health concerns for vulnerable populations, firefighters and others. Kari Nadeau and Mary Prunicki of Stanford’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research discuss related threats, preparedness and ongoing research.

Strategic investments for wildfire preparedness

In the midst of a global pandemic, California is entering into wildfire season with reduced resources and higher risks, explained Michael Wara, director of Stanford’s Climate and Energy Program, at a recent event hosted by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Mapping dry wildfire fuels with AI and new satellite data

Researchers have developed a deep-learning model that maps fuel moisture levels in fine detail across 12 western states, opening a door for better fire predictions.

Increasing risk of extreme wildfire weather

The study finds that autumn days with extreme fire weather have more than doubled in California since the early 1980s due to climate change. The results could contribute to more effective risk mitigation, land management and resource allocation.

Californians unwilling to subsidize wildfire prevention

Despite statewide devastation from wildfires, a new poll conducted by the Bill Lane Center for the American West shows Californians are still reluctant to subsidize wildfire prevention or support relocating communities at risk.

Wildfire’s impact on water quality

Stanford hydrologist Newsha Ajami, an appointee to California’s regional water quality board, discusses how wildfires affect water quality, and how we can better prepare for and react to the challenges.

A bridge amidst disaster: Stanford researchers find California wildfires shrink partisan differences about climate change strategies

New survey findings suggest that wildfires tearing through the state may bring Democrats and Republicans closer together in support of climate resilience measures.

Setting fires to avoid fires

Despite having proven effective at reducing wildfire risks, prescribed burns have been stymied by perceived and real risks, regulations and resource shortages. A new analysis highlights ways of overcoming those barriers, offering solutions for wildfire-ravaged landscapes.

New treatment prevents wildfires

Scientists and engineers worked with state and local agencies to develop and test a long-lasting, environmentally benign fire-retarding material. If used on high-risk areas, the simple, affordable treatment could dramatically cut the number of fires that occur each year.

Understanding and preparing for wildfire season

The new normal for Western wildfires is abnormal, with increasingly bigger and more destructive blazes. Understanding the risks can help communities avert disaster.

Wildfire smoke worse for kids’ health than smoke from controlled burns

Immune markers and pollutant levels in the blood indicate wildfire smoke may be more harmful to children’s health than smoke from a controlled burn, Stanford researchers found.

Reflections on the California wildfires

The 2018 fire season in California gave Stanford experts much to think about, including how the state can develop better policies for preventing fires and new research to better understand the long-term effects of breathing smoky air.