So far in 2015, wildfires have burnt more than 5.9 million acres of land, and the wildfire season has just entered the historically peak months: August and September.

California Governor Jerry Brown met in early August with crews of firefighters who are working 24-hour shifts to combat the spreading fires. In a news conference, he said California is stricken by drought, and it’s hotter and drier than ever before. The result is more severe fires and an extended fire season, according to the Associated Press.

In other vulnerable states, governors have placed restrictions on citizens’ water usage as a proactive approach to managing the limited supplies of water. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval created the Nevada Drought Forum in April 2015 to bring together water managers and other stakeholders to deal with policy needs, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. By July 2015, Oregon Governor Kate Brown had declared drought emergencies for two-thirds of Oregon’s counties, reported.

The scarcity of water in the West makes the management of both water supply and water quality crucial. Western Governors are well aware of the interrelatedness of forest health, wildlife, energy and water policy, and they recognize that drought has serious implications for each of these issues.

James D. Ogsbury, Executive Director, Western Governors’ Association

Fighting Wildfires with Technology

At the most basic level, state and local governments are investing in the basic necessities of fighting fires, such as hoses, fire-resistant apparel and fire trucks. But they also have tapped information technology solutions to manage fire operations, dispatch information and track the paths of massive wildfires with utmost precision.

Times of San Diego reports that San Diego State University has combined IT and sandboxes to help firefighters control wildfires. SDSU is using visualization software to project a virtual map over the mountains and ravines in the sandbox. A virtual fire is started in the sandbox, and the software analyzes data on topography, the time of day, wind speeds and direction, and the fuel types to predict where and how the fire is likely to spread. SDSU partnered with SimTable to develop and test the software. An app that firefighters could pull up on their phones is also planned. “We’re hoping to put this into the hands of first responders who can use it to save lives and structures,” said Lance Larson, Assistant Director in the SDSU graduate program in homeland security.

According to Onvia’s Project Center, state and local governments are investing in IT to help fight wildfires.

Awarded FireWatch America LLC a three-year, $380,000 contract in July 2014 for a wildfire detection sensor system and installation services.
Issued a request for proposals (RFP) in December 2014 for an IT solution to provide up-to-the-minute information on wildfires. The contract is valued at $95,000. VDOF is giving up its paper-based system of distributing emergency response notices. Officials want an efficient and user-friendly solution that allows multiple dispatchers, operators and firefighters to view incident and resource statuses on a desktop and on the scene via mobile device. VDOF wants interactive maps with incorporated geographic information system (GIS) databases as its foundation.

Landscaping Contractors Can Help Fight Wildfires Too

Wildfires consume land and burn away vegetation lying in its wake. There are techniques for repairing and also preventing wildfires that require landscaping and contractors in the industry can help. In Onvia’s Project Center, from January to July 2015, state and local governments released 323 solicitations for specialty services, such as landscaping and tree services related to wildfire fighting and prevention.

Released a bid in September 2014 for post-wildfire chaining. “Chaining” is a technique to more evenly spread seeds that were dropped aerially over a piece of land to replant vegetation. The county wants a one-way chaining of a wildfire burn area of approximately 330 acres consisting of sagebrush, oakbrush, pinyon and juniper trees on the south and east foothills of Lake Mountain in Utah County.
Issued a request for qualifications & quotations in April 2015 for a two-year contract to reduce wildfires by tree thinning, pruning and disposing of debris by hand crews and/or mechanized equipment. The Department is using the landscaping efforts to reduce fuels that can add to wildfires.

Planning Ahead for Wildfires

Once the wildfire season is over, typically in November, officials are already thinking about next season and issuing contracts to help them prepare.

Issued an RFP in July 2015 to create an integrated wildfire protection plan that integrates with other strategic and disaster plans in the area. The budgeted $82,000 plan should identify risks to residents and assets and define a process for prioritizing projects to tackle those risks. It will also incorporate fuel breaks, such as roads and utility easements, fuel reduction projects on public and private land, and wildfire hazard restoration projects.

Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center shows that more than 300 state and local government budgets have proposed or adopted programs to deal with wildfires in the next few years.

Proposed $4,950,000 over five years for projects to plan and implement fuel reduction efforts and prescribed burns on wildlife areas to restore fire dependent ecosystems. The Public Lands Commissioner declared a Forest Health Hazard Warning for some eastern Washington forests. Fire is an important component of those ecosystems and essential for healthy habitats. In addition, controlled burns will aid in containing wildfires, while also helping firefighting agencies more safely and cost-effectively protect the land.

Contractors in Multiple Industries Can Win in Wildfire-Related Contracts

While no one can prevent all wildfires, contractors in many industries are playing a role in fighting the blazes, prevention efforts and clean-up. Industrial suppliers, public safety service providers, and operations and maintenance companies are still critical for stopping fires from spreading too far. Large-scale landscapers have many business prospects for post-seasonal work, and IT software companies can offer innovative software to government agencies to help them operate more efficiently. Furthermore, planning ahead is key and agencies are always looking for help to prevent disasters; consulting firms can support state and local agencies as they strategize on ways to restrain future wildfires in the coming drought seasons.