Supercomputer model of Esperanza fire

The video below is a simulation of the spread of the Esperanza fire which killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in 2006 near Cabazon, California. Raymond Lee Oyler was sentenced to death after he was convicted of five counts of murder and 37 counts of arson for starting this fire and many others.

The simulation was produced by Janice L. Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Philip J. Riggan of the Pacific Southwest Research Station.

The description of the video which is on YouTube:


It takes a supercomputer to run a mathematical simulation, or model, of the complex processes observed in wildfires. It often takes yet more computing power to visualize the data coming out of the computer model. This fire-behavior simulation reproduces the October 2006 Esperanza Fire near Cabazon, California. Using data from the NCAR fire-weather model, simulations like this one are helping scientists explain the physical processes and behavior within large wildfires.

An arsonist ignited the blaze on the upwind edge of Cabazon Peak during a Santa Ana wind event. Driven by gusty Santa Ana winds, dry chaparral fuels, and steep terrain, the fire rapidly spread up into the San Jacinto Wilderness.

The simulation reproduces several features observed during the fire: the rapid spread to the west-southwest, runs of flame up canyons that lay perpendicular to the wind direction, splitting of the fire into two heads, and feathering of the fire line at the leading edge.

—–Coupled Weather-Fire Simulation of the Esperanza Wildfire—–

Science: Janice Coen (NCAR) and Phillip Riggin (Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service)

Visualization: Janice Coen and Alan Norton, NCAR, using VAPOR (Visualization and Analysis Platform for Ocean, Atmosphere, and Solar Researchers)

More information:


UPDATE November 12, 2013:

Esperanza Fire Factual Report, and the USDA Office of Inspector General’s Report on the fire.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Supercomputer model of Esperanza fire”

  1. You’ve got Janice as ‘Janet’ in the first of the 3 attributions. I worked with her to provide the initial thermal dataset for this simulation, so I want her to get credited correctly.
    Her work is important because it’s based on the current fire behavior models and the underlying Richard Rothermel theory; when her simulation doesn’t match the documented firespread, then we have an opportunity to look into why the theory doesn’t match the reality, and hopefully improve both theory and models.


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