Preventing the Spread of Forest Fires

Team: 3


Area of Science: Environmental

Interim: Team Number: 003
School Name: Albuquerque Academy
Area of Science: Environmental Science
Project Title: Preventing the Spread of Forest Fires

Problem Definition:
Forest fires, also known as wildfires, are a persistent problem in places with lots of vegetation. Areas at risk tend to be those with climates moist enough to sustain the vegetation but with long periods of dryness and heat each year. During these hot periods branches, leaves, dead trees, etc. dry out and become very flammable. Forest fires are a significant risk to rapidly expanding urban settings where there are suburban expansions into the surrounding wilderness. By moving toward the wilderness, those suburban areas are at risk of burning if a forest fire were to strike. It is estimated that forest fires burn 4.3 million acres a year in the United States alone. The cost of fighting and preventing forest fires has reached up to $1 billion each year. By simulating how fire spreads as it moves through forests, we can try to predict how real forest fires might act to develop better systems of preventing widespread forest destruction.

Problem Solution:
We are using a grid-based simulation space to map trees and track the spread of simulated fire. The trees have several different parameters that determine how the fire will consume and spread from them including dryness, height, crown thickness, tree radius, etc. The fire only follows simple rules on how to spread. By "crawling" or "crowning" the fire spreads to an adjacent cell or by "jumping" the fire can move across several cells. The way the fire moves will be determined by the parameters of the trees on which the fire is burning and on environmental conditions. Some of these conditions include wind velocity, ambient humidity and temperature, forest elevation, and various other atmospheric phonemena. Once the fire is sufficiently simulated we want to figure out ways to place firebreaks to prevent the fire from spreading or at least slow it down until it eats up all its fuel.

Progress to date:
We have been doing research to refine criteria for fire behaviour, tree parameters, and effects of the environment on the fire. We believe the environmental effects are most important to study because they, more than the properties of the trees, define how the fire moves. The tree parameters mostly affect the fuel source of the fire. For our model we have made a grid-based environment and very simple trees that burn quite well. The fire currently moves in the general direction of the wind with some spreading to adjacent trees.

Expected results:
We want to have fire that acts rather realistically so that we can begin to figure out how to place firebreaks. The benchmark for how well we simulated the fire will be data from past forest fires.

Team Members:

Sponsoring Teacher: Jim Mims