Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Despite the laws of thermodynamics that govern wildfires: NYT article

The NYT published last month a very interesting article on the use of computer modelling of wildfires to aid fire fighting decisions during the recent extreme fire behaviour suffered in Arizona, USA.

The full article is Fighting Wildfires With Computers and Intuition. Some excerpts that I found interesting are:
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Fire behaviorists work alongside meteorologists, given that the weather, especially wind patterns, plays a pivotal role in how a wildfire grows. The topography is also important because fires burn differently depending on whether they are going up a steep slope, across a valley or through a developed area. Then there are what firefighters call the fuels, which are the vegetation and other materials that give fires energy as they move along.
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The fires that Arizona has experienced, some surging forward faster than expected, are testing the mathematical models that behavior specialists use. Tom Zimmerman, a fire behavior expert at the National Interagency Fire Center for the United Forest Service in Boise, Idaho, said that the Wallow Fire had on occasion advanced more quickly than the models predicted. “We use each fire to verify the models and make them more accurate,” he said.
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Despite learning the laws of thermodynamics that govern fires, behavior specialists say there is still plenty of unpredictability to each blaze, which requires them to draw on their long experience. Fires can produce their own weather patterns, for instance, which can then end up altering the course of the fires.
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