December 2, 2009--COLLEGE STATION, Texas--Before the 2009 Firewise Leadership Award winners were announced, Texas Forest Service GIS Specialist Karen Ridenour had no idea she was to soon become one of two state winners.
The prestigious Firewise Leadership Awards recognize individuals and organizations that work with communities and wildland environments to promote current prevention methods and find new methods to protect those communities and keep homes and citizens safe.
Ridenour was recognized for her work in fire research and modeling, a Fire Plain Mapping process that will aid in better predicting where fires are likely to occur and gathering GPS coordinates and data on all fire hydrants in the Bastrop, Texas, area.
Ridenour said she was flattered to be recognized outside the agency for her work. However, she was quick to say she could not have done it alone.
“I know that without the help of the case study team, the Bastrop High School students and many others I would not have received this award,” Ridenour said.
For three years, Bastrop High School students have been helping Ridenour with various projects. Students receive real-world experience and class credit for their work.
One of the biggest projects involves gathering fire hydrant data from across the county. The students use GPS technology to determine hydrant location, distance from the curb, obstructions, low-flow hydrant status and hydrant damage. This information is vital to fire departments that need water when fighting both structural and wildland fires.
“This year, the group finished mapping all hydrants within the Bastrop, Paige and McDade city limits, which is a huge deal,” Ridenour said. “Eventually we would like to have the entire county mapped, but that is going to take a while.”
Along with this work, Ridenour leads post-fire analysis on significant wildfires across the state. These published case studies provide vital information about home loss and damage from wildfires that occur primarily in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) – the place where structures and other human developments meet and intermingle with undeveloped wildland.
Data is collected on homes destroyed by wildfires and is analyzed to determine why the homes burned. Since 2006, the team has conducted four case studies: the Cross Plains Fire, Wilderness Ridge Fire, Montague Complex and 1148 Complex. In almost all of the cases, the team found that pier-and-beam construction, vinyl and wood siding, attached wooden decks, and lack of defensible space contributed to home loss.
Ridenour also serves on the National Institute of Standards and Technology working group. The group plans to do at least two post-fire case studies on the national level each year.
Rich Gray, TFS mitigation and prevention coordinator and Ridenour’s supervisor, said that Ridenour’s award was not just significant to her and her work, but to TFS as well.
“This award is a huge deal. It not only highlights Karen’s work, but also Texas Forest Service’s work in protecting the state and helping develop standards that could be incorporated nation-wide,” Gray said. “This award is a testament to this type of research.
"Karen has worked here in Texas, in California and soon will be traveling to Australia to conduct more case study work,” Gray said. “This award helps everyone see how important these post-fire analysis are and how they can change our future.”
Ridenour’s work with post-fire analysis case studies fits into a bigger picture. Gray said Ridenour’s work has been instrumental in developing national post-fire analysis standards.
Read more about Firewise Communities USA. View TFS post-fire analysis case studies.