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Oregon State researchers look at properties of embers, and which trees are most dangerous

Researchers at Oregon State University are finding ways to detect areas that are most vulnerable to those spot fires by using embers from a handful of different trees to detect which ones burn the fastest, as well as how far the embers travel from their controlled burn sites.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Spot fires are common, and sometimes can be the most dangerous results of a wildfire.

Researchers at Oregon State University are finding ways to detect areas that are most vulnerable to those spot fires by using embers from a handful of different trees to detect which ones burn the fastest, as well as how far the embers travel from their controlled burn sites.

"This last summer, we had the big fire up in the Gorge," said David Blunck, a researcher at OSU. "And we estimate that the fire jumped two miles across the river."

RELATED | Study: Smaller branches pack the fastest, biggest fire-spreading punch

That leap was from embers, which carried for miles from the burning needles of trees, which is a concern that everyone has during a wildfire.

Researchers at OSU are working to find which trees generate the most embers, and they're taking different species of dried out trees from all over the sate, and lighting them on fire to see where the embers fall, and how many they can collect.

"So then, the question is what characterizes this ember generation," said Blunck. "How do we control that?"

After that, they bring the embers back to the lab, and researchers are testing which trees form embers the fastest.

It turns out that Douglas fir burns the quickest.

Using infrared maps from the U.S. Forest Service to determine which fires spear the farthest, the researchers factor in wind and tree species, using their own infrared cameras during the controlled burns, in order to see how embers deteriorate before hitting the ground.

The researchers at OSU will continue to find out more about varying reactions from embers, and they're partnering with the U.S. Forest Service to provide their findings to help fire crews have a better understanding of where certain embers may fall.

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