Imagine a research meteorologist focused on developing the kind of detailed weather forecasts that firefighters need to fight wildland fires. Accurate, timely information is critical.
Then understand that he has faced wildland fire on his doorstep in Ramona, Calif., near San Diego at least three times since 2003.
Those experiences fuel the passion that Shyh-Chin Chen brings to his work to protect human life and property.
“As a trained meteorologist, I’m excited about using my talent so it can be applied to real situations to help people actually involved in fire suppression work,” Chen said. “I recently developed a web tool called Firebuster that will be able to deliver high-resolution weather information directly to firefighters on site. In Southern California, the firefighters fight in tough, mountainous terrain. Very complicated wind patterns travel through the hills and valleys. Our firefighters need information on a highly detailed scale that isn’t available anywhere else.”
In 2007, Chen weathered the Witch Creek Fire in Southern California that displaced nearly 1 million residents, destroyed thousands of homes and left 10 people dead. He was flying out of town as the fire started, and his wife had asked him if they would be okay.
“‘Don’t worry honey, this is the research I do, and if the fire really gets to our home, the fire would burn everything between Ramona and here. We shall be okay,’” he told her.
When he arrived in Boston, he had a phone message that his family had been evacuated and that he needed to return home.
The Cedar Fire in 2004, one of the largest in California’s history that claimed 16 lives and destroyed more than 3,000 structures, and the Bernardo Fire in May are other recent experiences that have motivated him to help predict fires faster and more accurately to prevent or extinguish fires more quickly and allow people to safely evacuate as needed.
Read more about Chen, his fire research, his hobbies and more in the agency’s special feature Faces of the Forest Service.