Wildfire Research Demonstration Scheduled at IBHS Research Center

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Wildfire testing conducted at the IBHS Research Center will demonstrate ways to protect property in wildfire prone areas

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“Our research will help property owners take control of and minimize their risk(s) by identifying vulnerable areas in their structures, and developing methods to reduce that vulnerability and make the buildings more resistant to wildfire."

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology (DHS S&T) Directorate will hold a demonstration of the wildfire research being conducted at the IBHS Research Center in Chester County, S.C. on Thursday, March 24.

In addition to wildfire, the world-class, cutting edge IBHS Research Center is designed to accurately simulate severe weather events such as category 1, 2, and 3 hurricanes, other types of high-wind events, wind-driven rain and hailstorms in a controlled environment. IBHS researchers will conduct full-scale testing of one- and two-story residential and commercial structures in the facility’s 21,000 square-foot test chamber.

“The wildfire testing conducted at the IBHS Research Center will clearly demonstrate ways to protect property in wildfire prone areas,” said Julie Rochman, CEO and president of IBHS. “Our research will help property owners take control of and minimize their risk(s) by identifying vulnerable areas in their structures, and developing methods to reduce that vulnerability and make the buildings more resistant to wildfire.

“Previous field research shows that it is not direct flame contact that causes many buildings to burn during wildfires. Rather, it is embers (firebrands) that create spot fires by igniting vegetation, debris and flammable materials that lead to ignition of the exterior of a house and embers that are blown into buildings through gable vents, soffit vents and other openings that can ignite a house from the inside. Extreme heat radiating from the wildfire can preheat vegetation and building materials, damage siding materials, and break windows. These effects can greatly increase the likelihood that a home will ignite.”

To study these effects and vulnerabilities, IBHS is working in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the SRNL to develop ember generation and radiant heat panel capabilities at the IBHS Research Center.

The testing is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Wildfire Ignition Resistant Home Design (WIRHD) Program, a science-based program led by the Savannah River National Laboratory to provide community developers and homeowners the ability to assess and understand fire risks due to a nearby wildfire, Through this program, IBHS scientists and engineers have been working with Forest Service experts and SRNL scientists and engineers to develop beneficial wildfire research programs.

Equipment capable of injecting burning embers into the wind stream in the IBHS Research Center’s large testing chamber has been developed. Ductwork will allow burning embers to be injected into the wind stream throughout the 65-foot wide by 30-foot tall wind field created by the 15 groups of vane-axial fans. This system will enable the researcher to reproduce ember storms typical of wildfire events, replicating the along-wind and across-wind turbulence characteristics of natural winds occurring in wildfire conditions as well as the embers carried in those winds. These factors will allow IBHS researchers to produce much more accurate simulations of ember attacks on building components, including attic vents and complex roof shapes, and the gusty nature of the wind environment associated with an ember attack during a wind-driven wildfire event.

A large radiant panel (similar to the type of panel prescribed by ASTM E1623), but on a larger scale, is currently being developed for use in the IBHS Research Center. This panel will subject test specimen building components to the radiant heat characteristics of a wildfire and will be used in conjunction with the ember generation equipment for the WIRHD program testing at the IBHS facility.

"The ability to test wildfire ignition in real-time with full-scale models provides important insights into the development of prevention techniques," says Sam Foster, Station Director of the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. "RMRS is very proud to be the home of 'go-to' scientists and technical experts that have been key players in developing the Structure Ignition Assessment Model, which facilitates the prevention of future wildland-urban interface fire disasters."

Test and Media Event

Ember generation equipment will be used in the large test chamber in a series of tests designed to demonstrate differences in ignition potential between various construction techniques, building materials, and landscaping materials.

All tests will be videotaped to create demonstration videos that will clearly communicate key vulnerabilities to wildfire ignition. Data will also be collected and used in the development of the Structure Ignition Assessment Model (SIAM), a tool that will allow a virtual representation and analysis of the ignition potential of homes, including the influence of surrounding yard and neighborhood characteristics. SIAM will allow the evaluation of the current ignition potential of homes and the determination of what steps can be taken to reduce the risk of ignition from a wildfire.

“The Structure Ignition Assessment Model (SIAM) will provide first responders, extension agents, and preparedness planners with a tool that allows them to interact with those at risk to wildfire in new ways. The tool will also allow the homeowner, working with the first responder, an opportunity to create a virtual version of their own home and subject it to wildfire conditions. The results will provide recommendations the homeowner can act on to decrease their likelihood of wildfire ignitions. The demonstrations being completed by the team at the IBHS Research Center will provide the science and video to reinforce the recommendations of SIAM,” states Cassy Robinson, Program Manager at SRNL.

The demonstration will begin at 2 p.m. and is expected to last for approximately two hours. Members of the media are invited to shoot stills and video footage of the home before the test. Members of the media and other invited guests will view the demonstration events from an observation room with 18-foot tall, impact resistant windows into the test chamber. Following the demonstration, media can re-enter the test chamber to shoot post-test stills and video footage of the home.

Available for Pre- and Post-test Interviews:

  •     Julie Rochman, IBHS CEO & President
  •     Tim Reinhold, PhD, P.E., IBHS SVP of Research & Chief Engineer
  •     Anne Cope, PhD, P.E., IBHS Director of Research
  •     Jack Cohen, Researcher, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station - Fire Sciences Laboratory
  •     Cassy Robinson, Program Manager, Savannah River National Laboratory
  •     Randall Griffin, Program Specialist, DHS Science & Technology Directorate and Captain, DeWitt (NY) Fire District

Space for this event is limited. Please RSVP to Joseph King, media relations manager, IBHS, 813-675-1045 / 813-442-2845; jking(at)ibhs(dot)org.

About IBHS
IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks to residential and commercial property by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices.

About Savannah River
Savannah River National Laboratory is the U.S. Department of Energy’s applied research and development national laboratory located at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C. SRNL puts science to work to support DOE and the nation in the areas of environmental management, national and homeland security, and energy security. The management and operating contractor for SRS and SRNL is Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC.

About U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology (DHS S&T) Directorate
The S&T Directorate's mission is to strengthen America’s security and resiliency by providing knowledge products and innovative technology solutions for the Homeland Security Enterprise. S&T customers include the operating components of the Department;federal, state, local, tribal and territorial emergency responders and government officials; and owners and operators of critical infrastructure. .

About USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station
The RMRS mission is to develop and deliver scientific knowledge and technology that will help people sustain forests, rangelands, and grasslands. RMRS research focuses on the effects of climate change and humans on wildfire, water, and terrestrial ecosystems of the Interior West. RMRS is organized into seven science programs with research laboratories in nine of the twelve Interior West states we directly serve. Working in collaboration with a suite of partners, we deliver interdisciplinary solutions to critical natural resource problems.

Joseph King
Media Relations Manager, IBHS
(813) 675-1045 (o); (813) 442-2845 (c)
Twitter: disastersafety

John Verrico
Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate
(202) 254-2385

Angeline (Angie) French
Savannah River National Laboratory
(803) 725-2854

Nan Christianson
US Forest Service – Rocky Mountain Research Station
Assistant Director – Communications
(970) 498-1369 (o); (970) 817-1987 (c)

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