Wildfire Firefighting Goes High-Tech

Although the sensors worked at the reserve, which operates under a Wi-Fi "umbrella," making a space like a national forest wireless could be difficult.

"When you move technology like this out into the wild lands, it's more of a challenge for maintenance and communications," Rahn said. "We're hoping that because [many wild-land areas] don't have manned fire stations anymore, these would serve as 'lookout towers.'"

At $12,000 a pop, the sensors' price present challenges as well, although Rahn says the team is investigating ways to decrease the cost.

Other researchers are using science in a different way to prevent wildfires: by developing city planning suggestions, based on statistical models.

Alexandra Syphard, a recent postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and now at the Conservation Biology Institute in San Diego, believes that, while the dry weather conditions have made Southern California ripe for large wildfires, it's people who have settled in rural areas who are often the initial cause of the blazes.

"Humans cause 98 percent of [fire] ignitions. The more people there are moving into undeveloped areas, the likelier that it is we have ignitions," Syphard said. "We've had a lot of housing development [in Southern California], especially rural development."

Syphard performs a different type of fire modeling. She uses the impact of human development — such as homes and roads — as well as climate and elevation, to determine the likelihood of a fire.

While her studies may not have real-time applications, Syphard believes that the information can be used by city planners when choosing development sites.

As for her own home in San Diego, Syphard hasn't been evacuated — yet.

"It's pretty crazy here. I live really close to a big regional park, so I'm definitely watching the news," she said. "I'm very concerned. What we're experiencing now in San Diego is unlike anything I've seen or heard of before, and I don't know when it's going to stop."

David Muir contributed to this report.

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