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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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.


(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.

Second generation of Simtable being developed

In May we recorded the video above and told you about the Simtable which projects 3-D wildfire simulations onto a sand table which can be molded to resemble the topography in a specific area.  Fire modeling algorithms simulate the spread of fire through the vegetation and across the topography while also taking weather and fuel conditions into account. You can simulate a fire at your choice of location, or you can view the spread of historic fires. The system can also be used to simulate and train for evacuations, floods, and hazardous material incidents — at a starting price of $25,000.

A researcher at San Diego State University is developing the next generation of the Simtable which he hopes to put into the hands of wildland firefighters out on the ground.

10News reports:

“Any firefighter with a smartphone or tablet could download it and have the mapping system,” said [Justin Freiler of SDSU’s Visualization Center].

They are not there yet, as a mobile app is still in development, but the hope is to make the system available to firefighters in the near future.

Simtable demonstration

At the Large Fire Conference in Missoula, Montana today we were intrigued by the Simtable in the exhibits area. The technology uses a projector connected to a computer to place an image on a sand table, resulting in an amazing three dimensional simulation of the spread of fires. We first wrote about the system in 2010.

It is the software that takes it to the next level. Fire modeling algorithms simulate the spread of fire through the vegetation and across the topography while also taking weather and fuel conditions into account. You can simulate the spread of a fire at your choice of location. Or, you can view the spread of historic fires. So far the company has collected wildfire perimeter mapping data for dozens of actual fires over the last two years. Using linear interpolation it can produce videos showing the fire spread from beginning to end, or at least to the extent that mapping data is available.

It can all be yours at a starting price in the mid-$20,000s.

Below is a video that we shot today, showing Stephen Guerin demonstrating the system.

Wildfire suppression simulation combined with flight simulation

According to their web site, E-Semble “develops simulation software for the education, training and assessment of incident response and safety professionals, such as police, fire and medical services”. In the video above, they combined flight simulation software with their wildfire response simulation.

Fire simulations have changed since the 1980s. The one we used at Descanso Station in California used four overhead projectors behind a rear-projection screen, and two four-track reel-to-reel tape recorders that enabled eight possible sound effects. Involved in putting on the simulations were a director, an audio technician, a visual technician, and three to four role players. It was a very effective training tool.