Nebraska Forest Service acquires advanced wildland fire simulator

Above: Nebraska Forest Service Simtable. Screen grab from the KOTO video below.

We have written before about the Simtable that can project a spreading fire and an aerial photo onto a sand table that has been sculpted to resemble the topography for that area. It is an excellent training tool to simulate a potential fire or an actual on-going fire.

In this report from KDUH/KOTA the system recently acquired by the Nebraska Forest Service is described, including features that were new to me.

Below is an excerpt from the news coverage:

…NFS Fire Management Specialist Seth Peterson says the simulation gives fire officials advance knowledge of what they would need to do if a fire breaks out in a certain area. It could also make a big impact during a real wildfire event. A smartphone app for firefighters in the field can add valuable, on-site information to the simulator to make it react in real time.

“That iphone will know where he is on the map, and the IC (Incident Commander) will be able to see exactly where that firefighter is on the line. The firefighter can then update off his phone and basically feed the IC all the information he needs to be making all the decisions, without even being on the fire,” says Peterson…

Each simulator costs about $25,000.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “simulation”.

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Colorado lays out plans for development of wildfire decision support system

The decision support system that Colorado is developing is expected to provide frequently updated fine-scale predictions of weather that affects wildfires, and the behavior of going fires. It will use heat detected by satellites and hourly weather forecast updates from the National Weather Service to produce maps showing fire managers where multiple fires are expected to spread in the next 12 to 18 hours.

Much of the work is being done under contract for the state by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally funded program headquartered in Boulder, in cooperation with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. The organizations have distributed a detailed briefing document on the development schedule and a time line for deliverables, which you can read HERE (1.9 MB).

Below are a few images from the document.

Colorado Decision Support System

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Colorado Decision Support System

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Colorado Decision Support System

We have criticized the state of Colorado for not having their crap together for organizing and planning for the management of wildfires or for on-the-ground fire suppression, but they are developing some significant resources for gathering intelligence with their new fixed wing aircraft and now with this decision support system that will provide frequently updated predictions of fire spread using state of the art technology.

Their next logical step is to develop a management system and the firefighting resources to make use of this wealth of information. While there are some firefighting organizations that could use this data to their advantage and convert it to actions on the fire ground, at this stage it’s like *putting lipstick on a pig, at least within the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

*In 1992 Ann Richards, the former Governor of Texas, said at a South Dakota barbecue, “You can put lipstick on a hog and call it Monique, but it is still a pig”.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.

Collecting, processing, and distributing weather and fire behavior data on a smart phone

A modern smartphone has many times the processing power of the computers on the Apollo spacecraft that took astronauts to the moon. Increasingly, wildland firefighters in the field are taking advantage of the smart brilliant devices in their pockets.

An article published in Fire Management Today (in the third quarter of 2015) covers two smart phone applications, or apps. After the user inputs the current weather and environmental conditions they can calculate various parameters and share them via mail or use various archiving options. One of the apps even uploads data to a remote computer server where advanced simulations can be performed which then return forecasts for the next 3 to 12 hours.

Fire Weather Calculator 

Fire Weather Calculator

(These images are screen shots from the app.)

Below, FDFM and PIG, are Fine Dead Fuel Moisture and Probability of Ignition. The app can harvest information from the smart phone and insert it into the fields, including time, date, latitude, longitude, and elevation.

Fire Weather Calculator

From Fire Management Today:

This application allows the user to input traditional observations (e.g., dry bulb, wet bulb, etc.) and have the application calculate critical information, such as relative humidity and probability of ignition, which both saves time and ensures consistency between weather observers. More importantly, however, is the ability to archive and share these digital observations with other users and managers in real time. This application allows for more streamlined management of weather information, a critical aspect of any fire event. The ability to share observations, particularly if many users are archiving their observations, will lead to a very useful archive of crowd-sourced data that will be used to create value-added products, such as the calculations of 3-dimensional weather fields that could be shared with personnel to increase their situational awareness.

Fire Weather Calculator is for Android devices and iPhones.

Topofire Weather app

The Topofire Weather app takes the weather calculations to the next level, however it is no longer available. In searching for it we contacted one of the authors of the article, Matt Jolly, a research ecologist at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, who told us that it has been removed because they “are working on better options for displaying geographic information across all devices, rather than just a few platforms. We are almost ready to release it but development is going slowly right now.”

Topofire Weather looks like it was rather intriguing, as you can see from the description in Fire Management Today:

Similar to the Fire Weather Calculator app described above, this application allows users to enter a suite of fire weather observations that are normally collected on incidents. These observations, as well as the time and location, are sent directly to the TOPOFIRE server, where they are permanently archived and can be made available to users and fire weather forecasters. Weather information entered into the phone can then be used to parameterize the WindNinja simulation model, using either current observations or gridded data from the Real-Time Mesocale Analysis dataset (RTMA).

Users can also request forecasts for the next 3 to 12 hours, using data from the National Digital Forecast Database. Model simulations are then run on the TOPOFIRE server, and outputs are returned to the user’s phone in the form of a keyhole markup language (.KML) file that can be opened on the phone on GoogleEarth.

Topofire

(The image above is from the article in Fire Management Today. Click on it to see a larger version.)

The Topofire Weather app apparently required access to government computer servers, which may prevent the ordinary user from being able to take advantage of its entire functionality.

We will look forward to the next generation of the app.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research studies fire behavior

Janice Coen at the National Center for Atmospheric Research is studying how weather and fire interact in order to develop a wildfire prediction system to forecast fire behavior.

Articles at Wildfire Today tagged “Janice Coen” about the fire behavior research she is conducting.

BlueSky Modeling Framework

BlueSky screen grab
Screen grab from a BlueSky animation.

The U.S. Forest Service has developed a system called BlueSky Modeling Framework using multiple models that when combined in various configurations can enable:

  • the lookup of fuels information from fuel maps
  • the calculation of total and hourly fire consumption based on fuel loadings and weather information
  • the calculation of speciated emissions (such as CO2 or PM2.5) from a fire
  • the calculation of vertical plume profiles produced by a fire
  • the calculation of likely trajectories of smoke parcels given off by a fire
  • the calculation of downstream smoke concentrations.

The image above is a screen grab from a Beta website of an animation of a 3-hour running average of PM 2.5 using modeled fires. (Don’t ask me to explain it any further than that!)

More information about the system is HERE. You can configure your own animation at THIS SITE.

Radiation heat transfer once believed to dominate over convection heat transfer in wildfire spread — study reveals that’s not the case

MSO Fire Lab flame research
Researchers at the Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory study how a wildfire spreads, May 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A new study about the physics of how a wildfire spreads has been completed by government employees, and thankfully it is freely available to taxpayers. A success for Open Access to the products of government-funded research!

The phrase “spreads like wildfire” is well-known but until recent discoveries through experiments conducted by scientists from the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, University of Maryland and the University of Kentucky, it wasn’t well-known how wildfires actually spread. Specifically, it was unclear how radiation and convection heat transfer processes, which both occur in wildfires, are organized to produce wildfire spread. Now, evidence presented in a new study, Role of buoyant flame dynamics in wildfire spread, reveals how flame dynamics that produce and transport convective heat effectively governs the spread of wildfire.

Previous studies focused mainly on radiant heat so little was known about the respective roles of convection and radiation on fire spread and most often the assumption was made that radiant heat was the governing factor. But scientists recently found that the net rates of heat transferred by radiation are insufficient because the fine fuel particles that constitute wildland vegetation cool efficiently by convection until contacted by flame.

As stated in the study, “if radiation itself is insufficient to account for fire spread…convection must provide the explanation.” So a team of scientists, led by Mark Finney of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, began looking at flame dynamics.

Utilizing specialized burn chambers and wind tunnels at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab and the University of Maryland, scientists were able to assimilate and measure flame dynamics. They found this process can correctly scale up to those found in large-scale wildfires. They also conducted outdoor experiments and prescribed fires at Camp Swift, TX. The experiments led to the discovery of previously unrecognized flame behaviors and how those behaviors cause wildfires to spread. They also discovered that flame vorticity (circulations) and instabilities due to the buoyancy of flame gasses, cause wildfires to spread by forcing flames downward into the fuel bed and bursting forward ahead of the fire into fresh fuel (grass, brush, etc.).

“This study opens the door into the little known world of flame dynamics and gets us closer to understanding the complexities of radiative and convective heat and how they affect wildfire spread,” said Finney. The information obtained through this research is significant with the potential to:

  • Improve firefighter safety by providing better training to recognize and anticipate wildfire behavior
  • Simplify the physical principles of wildfire spread that can lead to the development of improved prediction models, and,
  • Improve the ability to mitigate fuel hazards by accurately modeling and describing fuel contribution to wildfires

The team of ten scientists who contributed to this study comes from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Missoula Fire Sciences Lab – lead scientist Mark Finney, Ph.D., the University of Maryland’s Department of Fire Protection Engineering – lead scientist Michael Gollner, Ph.D., and the University of Kentucky’s Department of Mechanical Engineering – lead scientist Kozo Saito, Ph.D.

Six brief videos supporting the research are available, but you have to download them onto your device in order to view them.

The study is available as a free .pdf download at WildfireToday/Documents.