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University of Washington

A simple but seldom-used tactic to prevent wildfires: Turn off the power grid when winds pick up

A simple but seldom-used tactic to prevent wildfires: Turn off the power grid when winds pick up

After last month’s deadly Northern California wildfires, atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass scanned old weather forecasts, searching for clues.

In two high-resolution weather models for Oct. 8, he found ample warning of the crucial ingredient for the firestorm that swept across parts of eight counties, claiming 43 lives and incinerating more than 8,000 buildings.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, look at the winds,’ ” recalled Mass, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor who writes a popular weather blog. “What if people were paying attention to this? What could they have done?”

The causes of the October...

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