Questions for ‘Wilder wildfires? Computing helps predict their path and fury’


The 2018 Carr fire in northern California, seen here outside Redding, threw pollutants into the air for weeks, beginning July 23. The state reported that air quality was “unhealthy” throughout the region affected by this intense fire. One of the biggest in state history, this fire eventually burned more than 175,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,077 homes.

E.L. Karey

To accompany feature “Wilder wildfires? Computing helps predict their path and fury” 


Before Reading

  1. What are wildfires, where do they typically occur and what causes them?
  2. Wildfires have been getting more costly. List three reasons why you think that might be occurring.

During Reading 

  1. What set off the Carr Fire in 2018 and how damaging was it?
  2. What are fire models? Who uses them and why?
  3. Based on the story, why has a policy of fire suppression in western U.S. states made wildfires more fierce?
  4. What share of wildfires are due to natural causes and what share due to people? And how much have humans changed the frequency of U.S. wildfires? 
  5. What are three ways that climate change might make the risk of wildfires worse?
  6. The story mentions fluid dynamics. What is that and how has this discipline become useful in wildfire prediction?
  7. What was the surprising finding that Janice Coen’s team made about why the 2014 King Fire suddenly raced up a canyon in the face of calm winds? And what impact might her team’s findings on fighting wildfires on hills versus flatlands?
  8. What makes wildfires different when they move into the borderlands of urban areas? (Hint: What is burning?)
  9. What are firebrands? And what role did they play in Santa Rosa, Calif. — a town devastated by a wildfire (even though the wildfire itself never swept through the town)?
  10. Explain what a NIST “dragon” is and how its findings have helped communities made their structures more fire resistant.

After Reading

  1. With what you’ve learned from this story, explain five features you would look for in a home that was built in what is now a wildfire-prone region.
  2. How might a firefighter’s job differ when dealing with wildfires instead of urban structural fires, such as a burning house? Think about what tools they need and how easily they can get them to where the fire is. Think about what is fueling each fire and the kind of pollution it will release into the breathable air. Think about how long each fire lasts. Think about how close each blaze might be to the firefighters’ station house (and what that means for where and when they eat and sleep and see their families).