Ecology And Environment

Wildfire Modeling

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Wild fire is a danger in any community, city or location that you live. Fires occur in all parts of the country as well as the world, some areas obviously more than others. They can be small or large causing little damage or causing millions of dollars of damage. You may live in a community that emergency planners use wildfire modeling to prepare in case one does occur. They use these models to preplan evacuations, resources needed to extinguish the fire and all other aspects of fire fighting to improve safety of the firefighters as well as the public.

Wildfire modeling uses computers to calculate mathematical equations to determine all the characteristics of a wildfire. Fires are predictable if you know certain criteria, like the fuel that is involved, topography and the weather. These programs use these known factors to predict how a fire will behave. Planners input different criteria for the model to interpret. By altering the variables several models can be made of a particular area giving alternate results to make plans for all contingencies. Some of the variables include wind direction and speed, fuel moisture, relative humidity and temperature. All of these factors influence how a fire behaves and by changing just one of them can alter an entire model.

The planners use these models to determine direction of travel, if a fire starts at point x, where will it go. What will the spread rate be and how fast will it travel. Will it be a surface fire (on the ground) or a crown fire (in the trees)? How extensive will it be? Will it burn with enough intensity to destroy everything in its path or will the firefighters have enough resources to extinguish the fire before it grows out of control.

On individual properties planners can show a homeowner how mitigation may make the difference between the firefighters passing their property because it is a "loser", or saving the house with little to no resources used. For entire neighborhoods they use the results for planning if evacuations are needed and the best routes. Also, it can show the best firefighting techniques and the amount of resources required. As we build into wild land and urban interface areas all around the country we will see a greater need for these resources and technologies in the future. The benefits of using wildfire modeling are staggering. The cost of fighting one major wildfire alone can put a whole community into ruin.

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