SJSU launches nation’s largest Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) —  San Jose State University has now launched the nation’s largest academic Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center (WIRC). 

The university has hired five new tenure-track faculty members and will have access to new technology — allowing the center to serve as the leading institution in the state in providing modern knowledge on wildfire science and management. 

“It’s really exciting for a campus like San Jose State to invest into a wildfire research center,” said Craig Clements, SJSU’s Director of the WIRC and Fire Weather Research Laboratory.

“Having five tenure-track faculty positions all in wildfire sciences at one institution is unheard of.”

The WIRC will be operated out of the College of Science and will work through an interdisciplinary model with the College of Social Sciences and the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering — offering students a wide-range of courses. 

WIRC will specialize in Fire Ecology (Biology), Fire and Fluid Dynamics (Mechanical Engineering), Wildfire Behavior Modeling and Wildfire Meteorology (Meteorology), Wildfire Remote Sensing (Meteorology), Wildfire Management and Policy (Environmental Studies). 

For graduate student Holt Hanley a major reason why he attended SJSU was in part due to the school’s distinguished meteorology department. 

With the addition of the WIRC, Hanley tells KRON4 News the research center will be crucial in helping firefighters and local government attack wildfires in the future. 

“I first decided to come to San Jose State because I knew Dr. Craig Clements was one of the top fire experts in basically the entire country … now that we’re going to have four more wildfire experts it’s like …  what more could you ask for,” said Hanley. 

“Part of our goal is to be able to better forecast these kinds of events to not only help firefighters but also possibly evacuation plans and citizens.”

As fall courses at SJSU are in full swing, this year’s classroom looks completely different than years prior due to the ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the pandemic, Dr. Clements and fellow faculty have been able to stay connected with their students via online. 

“In the past, like on the SCU, LNU and CZU fires … we would’ve actually gone to the fires and taken a bunch of data but because of COVID we can’t have two people in the same car at the same time so haven’t been able to actually deploy to one of the fires yet,” said Hanley.

“The logistics are very challenging and we hope to be able to mitigate that with certain protocols but in the next year we hope to be able to get back to normal,” said Dr. Clements.

The WIRC will serve to help the university research wildfire science and management through various angles in an effort to help local and state emergency response efforts in the event more fires break out in the future. 

“The interdisciplinary nature of the Wildfire Center here at San Jose State will allow us to look at the problem from different angles,” said Dr. Clements.

“I think with new technologies the observational tools that we have and the forecast simulation models that we have here now will really help not only the Bay Area but the state of California address these challenges.” 

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