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Experts, research and other news resources for wildfire season

Aerial view as wildfires fill the night sky on a mountain ridge.


Washington State University scientists are actively working to address the impacts of wildfires, while other faculty and staff are experts in mitigation, response and recovery. Listed below are several resources available to news media during the 2019 wildfire season.

General media inquiries can be directed to:

Will Ferguson

WSU News & Media Relations news editor

David Wasson

WSU News & Media Relations director


WSU Extension: A leader in wildfire response and recovery

With offices in every county statewide, WSU Extension brings expertise in disaster mitigation, response and recovery.

Its wildfire recovery website is packed with information, contacts and links to key agencies and services, including status updates on ongoing fires, preparedness and access to a wide variety of other resources related to the agriculture, economic and health impacts of wildfires.

WSU Extension is also an active member of the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN), which provides resources for extension professionals and the public on critical issues related to disasters including wildfires.

Michael J. Gaffney, WSU Extension Community & Economic Development director, is also chief of the Washington State Law Enforcement Mountain Operations School. He is a FEMA-certified emergency management trainer and formerly served as the director of the WSU Office of Emergency Management for six years.

Media contact:

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Defending Washington’s forests

Extension Foresters share knowledge to stop fires from destroying forests, rural homes

WSU Extension Foresters play a front-line role in defending Washington forests from devastating fire.

At work in communities in every part of the state, these experts tour land with forest owners and offer best practices aimed at preserving forest health, protecting against disease and pests that weaken trees, and minimizing risks during fire season.

Protection from wildfire and forest health issues are the core of the eastern Washington Extension Forestry program, led by Forester Andrew Perleberg. In northwest Washington, Forester Brendan Whyte, and in southwest Washington, Patrick Schults, teach fire prevention through coached planning courses and seminars. Extension Foresters can share perspectives on fire danger and prevention, as well as tips for protecting forests and homes. Kevin Zobrist, associate professor, Extension Forestry, oversees Extension Forestry in Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom Counties. Kelsey Ketcheson, forestry program coordinator, leads outreach in King County.

Media contact:

  • Andrew Perleberg, Regional Extension Specialist and Forestry Team Leader, serving eastern Washington, 509‑667‑6540,
  • Kelsey Ketcheson, Forestry Program Coordinator, King County, 206‑263‑1128,
  • Patrick Shults, Southwest Washington Extension Forester (Counties served: Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Thurston, Wahkiakum. 360‑740‑1213,
  • Brendan Whyte, Forestry Program Coordinator, North Puget Sound (Counties served: Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Whatcom). 425‑357‑6023,
  • Kevin Zobrist, Associate Professor, Extension Forestry, 425‑357‑6017,

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Forecasting smoke from wildfires for the Pacific and Inland Northwest

Since the year 2001, the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research at WSU has been forecasting daily air quality and air pollution. The most recent version of LAR’s forecasting system is AIRPACT5.

AIRPACT5 uses satellite information to estimate the emissions and heat release from a fire. It then uses this information to determine how air quality is affected across the Pacific Northwest. Government agencies in Idaho, Oregon and Washington use the AIRPACT system for daily air quality forecasts.

LAR researchers are also developing a network of low‑cost sensors to monitor air quality in the Spokane area and, in an interdisciplinary project involving data and health sciences, are using social media data to understand community-level responses to poor air quality events. Researchers in the laboratory also study indoor air quality, including smoke infiltration into homes.

Media contacts:

  • Joseph Vaughan, associate research professor, Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, 509‑335‑2832,
  • Candis Claiborn, professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 509‑335‑4652,

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Impact of air quality advisories on health outcomes

Julie Postma’s research examines the impact of air quality advisories and other risk messaging on health outcomes. Postma, an associate professor and assistant dean of research for the WSU College of Nursing, is working with colleagues in engineering and medicine to study the use of social media in risk communication. She uses multiple research methods to engage patients, parents, clinical and community partners in collaborative research and advocacy.

Media contact:

  • Julie Postma, assistant dean of research and associate professor, WSU College of Nursing, 253‑445‑4612,

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Studying the wildland/urban interface

Over the last two decades, natural resources sociologist and forester Matthew Carroll has studied the effects of fire on communities adjacent to wildlands (undeveloped forests, grasslands, etc.) also known as the Wildland Urban Interface. Specifically, his research is focused on how WUI community residents in the US West can become better adapted to the risks inherent in the current era of “megafires.” Carroll writes that fire is here to stay and a big part of the long-term answer will be for human communities to become more fire adapted so when a wild fire does occur, it is a manageable problem rather than a catastrophe.

Media contact:

  • Matthew Carroll, professor, WSU School of the Environment, 509‑335‑2235,

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Economics of wildfires

Large wildfires are becoming increasingly common and costly in the United States and wildfire suppression expenditures and the economic damages from wildfires are increasing. WSU economist Jonathan Yoder’s research focuses on the economic incentives for managing wildfire risks before they occur and for fighting fires after they start.

Yoder has written extensively on how liability law and regulation around wildfire and prescribed fire affect land use, fire prevention, and suppression, and the economic consequences of these activities on wildfire outcomes.

Media contact:

  • Jonathan Yoder, professor, WSU School of Economic Sciences, 509‑335‑8596,

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Impact of wildfires on water quality

Wildfires can influence both water quantity and quality from a watershed, and potable water providers must face the challenge of adapting to a dramatically altered landscape and disrupted water supply. In collaboration with the Yakima Drinking Water Utility, Amanda Hohner, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is investigating the impact of erosion from wildfires on water quality and drinking water treatment.

The researchers are studying how the Norse Peak Wildfire, which burned in the Cascade Mountains in 2017, affected water quality of the Naches River, which the City of Yakima uses for its drinking water supply. The information gained from the research study will help drinking water utilities plan for, and respond to, future wildfires.

Media contact:

  • Amanda Hohner, assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,

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Improving soil stability post wildfires

Idil Akin, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, studies the short and long‑term effects of wildfires on hydrologic behavior and shallow landslide susceptibility of hillslopes. Her group is investigating environmentally friendly soil improvement alternatives to improve hillslope stability post wildfires.

Media contact:

  • Idil Akin, assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 509‑335‑0568,

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Understanding fire’s role in the forest

Mark Swanson, associate professor of landscape ecology and silviculture in the School of the Environment, is a forester and forest ecologist who researches and teaches how forest disturbances like fire help promote biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest. Fostering an appreciation for how fire can often benefit many native plants and animals, Swanson helps Washingtonians learn about the different kinds of fire. His expertise helps people plan and protect themselves from fire, while also shedding light on fire’s role as a key to forest resilience.

Media contact:

  • Mark E. Swanson, associate professor, WSU School of the Environment, 509‑335‑1349,

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Preparing communities, youth camps for wildfire

Every summer, thousands of children explore nature and build self‑confidence at more than 400 youth camps in Washington. Camps contribute to rural economic vitality and link urban centers with rural communities, but they’re often located in areas at risk from wildfires. Mike Jensen, Director of Pend Oreille County Extension and a Community Economic Development Educator for WSU Extension, helps camps and communities prepare for wildfire, sharing knowledge and training.

Media contact:

  • Michael T. Jensen, director, Pend Oreille County Extension, 509‑447‑6452,

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