UB engineer to track how wildfires spread, help save lives

UB engineer Negar Elhami-Khorasani stands with three students in front of furnace in Ketter Hall.

Engineer Negar Elhami-Khorasani, second from the left, with members of her research group in Ketter Hall. Credit: Douglas Levere.

By Peter Murphy

Release Date: July 14, 2020

Negar Elhami-Khorasani head shot.

Negar Elhami-Khorasani

“Wildfires have always been part of the natural landscape for a healthy ecosystem, yet these fires are projected to become more frequent and intense. ”
Negar Elhami-Khorasani , assistant professor of civil engineering
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo engineer Negar Elhami-Khorasani is part of a multi-institutional group of researchers who are using science and technology to better understand and help prevent deadly wildfires.

“Wildfires have always been part of the natural landscape for a healthy ecosystem, yet these fires are projected to become more frequent and intense,” says Elhami-Khorasani, PhD, assistant professor in civil engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The economic and social impacts of wildfires have risen in recent years, and now represent a global concern.”

The research group, led by the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), recently received a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health and Infrastructure program.

Elhami-Khorasani will develop a data-driven urban fire spread model to evaluate wildfire risk in wildland urban interface (WUI) communities, which are areas where natural environments meet human-developed land. She will study temporal and spatial spread of fire, considering uncertainties in urban fuel, landscape, vegetation, and environmental factors.

Along with the rest of the team, Elhami-Khorasani will establish a continuous fire risk assessment framework moving from the wildland to urban and suburban areas. She will also collaborate with the UNR to translate total burned area in a community to economic losses and its effects on community residents’ perception of life.

The group was assembled Hamed Ebrahimian, an assistant professor at UNR, who began pursuing a better way to understand fire risk after the 2018 Camp Fire, which was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

“Some of the most tragic fatalities in the Camp Fire were due to unpredicted fire behavior, which surprised the victims and eliminated the proper reaction time,” Ebrahimian says.

University of California, Los Angeles, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, the Desert Research Institute and other University of Nevada units will collaborate with researchers at UNR and UB.

Elhami-Khorasani’s research investigates performance of the built environment under extreme loading and multi-hazard scenarios, especially fire and fire following earthquakes.

She is a member of several professional associations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Fire Protection Committee, the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS) Large Outdoor Fires and the Built Environment working group, the ASCE Task Group 2 on Reliability based Performance for Structural Systems, and the fib Task Group on Performance-Based Design.

For more information on the project, visit UNR’s website.

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