DRI helping with California Fires - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

DRI helping with California Fires

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The Desert Research Institute in Reno is helping firefighters on the front lines in California, from behind the scenes, through a number of programs managing statistical information and training firefighters.

In a room they call 'the cave' they are simulating California and Nevada terrain and then adding virtual conditions including smoke and fire to it so the firefighters can practice making critical decisions as they change the conditions around them.

"We can take wind and throw it this way and then they have to contend with a 35 mile an hour wind, which gives them a whole new set of concerns," says Matt Sgambati, who helps run the projectors for the system.

They've rotated in as many as 300 firefighters over the past three years to try it out.

"Every one of them has told us that this has a lot of potential to improve training and firefighting safety and so that's the direction we want to go and what we hope to achieve," says Tim Brown, who came up with the idea.

It was funded through a $3-million grant from the Department of Defense, and they are now working on getting an additional grant for the training aspect.

"This gives them a real feeling of what its like to be in this environment with perhaps  smoke and fire surrounding them," says visual scientist Tom Jackman. You don't understand how fast it can encroach up on you and perhaps you lose contact with your buddies. Then what do you do?"

In addition to the virtual training the DRI feeds a constant stream of statistics to pages where agencies in both California and Nevada can pick up humidity, temperatures and forecast wind shifts. All to try and help navigate the fires burning in California and filling our skies here with smoke.

Written by Erin Breen 

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