Researchers are hoping that a new computer modeling technique will provide better daily predictions of wildfire growth.
Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Maryland combined weather and fire behavior simulations with active wildfire satellite images.
“With this technique, we believe it’s possible to continually issue good forecasts throughout a fire’s lifetime, even if it burns for weeks or months,” said Janice Coen of NCAR in Boulder, Colo., the lead author and model developer. “This model, which combines interactive weather prediction and wildfire behavior, could greatly improve forecasting – particularly for large, intense wildfire events where the current prediction tools are weakest.”
Current modeling techniques used by firefighters only estimate speed at the edge of a fire but don’t examine weather and fire together.
“After a fire begins, there are a lot of different variables that come into play, some of which are actually driven by or influenced by the fire. You can have wind conditions that will change because of the pattern of the burn. There’s a lot of things that happen after a fire starts that can actually make the fire intensify based on the conditions of the burn,” said Tom Jeffery, senior hazard scientist at CoreLogic.
Researchers used the technique successfully on the 2012 Little Bear Fire in New Mexico.
“Lives and homes are at stake, depending on some of these decisions, and the interaction of fuels, terrain and changing weather is so complicated that even seasoned managers can’t always anticipate rapidly changing conditions,” Coen said. “Many people have resigned themselves to believing that wildfires are unpredictable. We’re showing that’s not true.”
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