Cal Poly Wildland-Urban Interface FIRE Institute

First-of-its-kind Institute to Research Holistic Solutions to Prevent Destructive Wildfires Funded by Cal Poly Strategic Research Initiative

An interdisciplinary group of Cal Poly faculty and staff, partnered with industry and community members, is now closer to establishing a unique institute to research wildfires and risk reduction strategies, after receiving initial funding support from the university’s Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) program.

The Cal Poly Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) FIRE Institute is focused on the area known as the wildland-urban interface, where the natural environment meets the built environment. Fires in the wildland-urban interface make up the most frequent source of declared disasters in California and are becoming increasingly more frequent and damaging.

While researchers at Cal Poly have been studying WUI fires, prevention and firefighting strategies for years, support from the university’s Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) program has allowed for a more concerted effort supported by an interim director and support for student/faculty research. Additional funding is being vigorously sought through grants, contracts and private support.

The WUI FIRE Institute is the first of its kind at a California university, and its status as a research institute will open up more opportunities for funding and projects related to WUI fires. “We’ve had faculty across the university doing work in wildland-urban interface fires and wildland fires for decades,” said Chris Dicus, a professor in the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department. “Thanks to these cross-disciplinary relationships at Cal Poly and with local and statewide partners, we have an incredible infrastructure on which to build the WUI FIRE Institute.”

Faculty members in the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department, Mechanical Engineering Department, Fire Protection Engineering program, Animal Science Department, Chemistry Department, and City and Regional Planning Department, and several others are involved in the creation of the institute. The team is led by Interim WUI FIRE Institute Director Dan Turner, a retired CAL FIRE chief and business manager of the San Luis Obispo County Fire Safe Council.

“It’s crucial that we have a shared focus, both on helping firefighters address what they’re challenged by in the field and on helping communities understand and mitigate the negative consequences of these fires,” Turner said. “We have to do our part to educate the public and policymakers on how these fires happen and what we can do to make them less destructive.”

The project is funded through the Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) program, a partnership between Academic Affairs; Research, Economic Development; Graduate Education; and University Development. The SRI program identified proposals from Cal Poly faculty and staff that addressed problems facing the Central Coast, California, and the world as a whole and that placed an emphasis on the role of undergraduate and graduate student research experiences.


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