Using a Computational Fluid Dynamic Model to Guide Wildland Fire Management

James Furman | Forest Service



The objectives of this project are to: (1) validate the physics-based FIRETEC model by comparing model situations to measured values of fire-induced wind velocities and heat release within highly instrumented prescribed burns on Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), (2) demonstrate the ability of FIRETEC to predict realistic fire phenomenological response to heterogeneous forest structure, wind speed, and firing pattern scenarios in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) fuel types, and (3) disseminate modeling results and lessons learned to fire managers throughout the Air Force, Department of Defense (DoD), and other land management organizations.

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Technology Description

Current fire spread models are inadequate for predicting the complex influences of atmosphere, forest structure, and self-generating fire processes on wildland fire behavior. FIRETEC, a physics-based computational fluid-dynamics model developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, takes advantage of cutting-edge supercomputing techniques and coupled fire/atmosphere modeling to capture this complexity. This project will test the utility of FIRETEC in predicting scalable fire behavior phenomena in longleaf pine forest and open grassy fuels on Eglin AFB. Model performance will be validated first against field data collected from highly instrumented prescribed fires during the Prescribed Fire Combustion and Atmospheric Dynamics Research Experiments (RxCADRE). Realistic coupled fire/atmosphere behavior will be verified by comparing simulated fire-influenced wind fields and turbulence to measured wind speeds and direction inside and surrounding RxCADRE fire perimeters. Macroscopic metrics such as modeled fire spread rates, fire intensity, and general fire perimeter characteristics also will be compared to observations. The comparison of model results with both wind and fire behavior is essential for validating a tool for use in prescribed fire scenarios because the tactics of prescribed fire practices rely on the coupling between wind and fire to provide control. After using RxCADRE data to validate FIRETEC and assure that it is capturing critical processes for fire behavior in Eglin fuels, model sensitivities will be addressed and a variety of simulations will be conducted to investigate the influences of wind speed, forest structure, and ignition pattern on fire behavior. Results from this approach to demonstration based on validation will provide valuable lessons learned concerning fire behavior phenomena for optimizing wildland fire strategies and tactics, accelerating fire-practitioner training, and identifying conditions that pose risks or unforeseen advantages to operational success.

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This project will benefit wildland fire programs, including those on DoD lands, by filling knowledge gaps associated with fire behavior dynamics that hamper wildland fire program effectiveness. It is designed to improve understanding of wildland fire’s interactions with atmospheric dynamics and resulting fire behavior influencing phenomena such as indrafts and plume development. Current fire behavior models are not designed for, or capable of, accurately predicting these complex phenomena.  Many DoD installations have infrastructure at risk from wildfires or a mandate for applying prescribed fire for fuels reduction and/or compliance with the Endangered Species Act. A lack of understanding of factors influencing fire behavior can lead firefighters to employ improper fire management tactics, compromising safety, infrastructure, and military mission flexibility. Results of this demonstration will be transferred to fire managers throughout DoD and the fire community at large though all available forums. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2017)

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Mr. James Furman

Forest Service

Phone: 850-882-8399

Fax: 850-882-5321

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency