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Supercomputing Challenge

Expanding upon the Elliptical Fire Theory

Team: 84


Area of Science: Environmental, Fire Science

Interim: Team 007
Catherine Fessler
Christopher Morrison
Analytical Fire: Expanding upon teh Elliptical Fire Theory


This purpose of this project is to develop a computer application that can model the two dimensional spread of a virtual forest fire through a forest environment.

Summary of Last Year's Research

This is a phase three challenge project. Last year a theory was developed to analytically explain fire flow across the forest environment- the Elliptical Fire Theory. Essentially it states that fire flow under perfect conditions will form a perfect circle. So therefore imperfect fire flow can be accounted for by lengthening and shortening the radii on the circle to form a multi-dimensional ellipse.Read last year's final report or go to

Engineering Goals

This phase is devoted to three specific areas
1. Validating and Expanding upon the Elliptical Fire Theory
2. Using satellite photographs to "scan" real forests into the program
3. Streamline the modeling processes into a computer application with emphasis on ease of use and faster computation.

Validating and Expanding upon the Elliptical Fire Theory

The Elliptical Fire Theory was developed last year as a theory it is the purpose of this project to validate it. The method of validation contains two stages.

1. Gathering of needed data about fuels and other variables through the use of filming empirical experiments to gain the spread rate of the fire across certain materials.
2. Programming the data gathered in the empirical experiments into the fire program. Then, comparing controlled small scale empirical experiments to the fire modeling program to assess the degree of similarity.

To date several experiments have been conducted all of which show a strong correlation between the empirical and analytical results. These experiments have only been done on lightweight materials (paper towel, computer paper, notebook paper, tissue paper).

Using satellite photographs to "scan" real forests into the program

This is really a challenge project within a challenge project. The purpose of this is to scan realistic forest environments into the fire modeling program to make it a better tool to be used in forest fire modeling. Basically the idea is to make a realistic forest based upon the RGB values of the pixels from a satellite photograph. There has already been an algorithm designed that parses the pixel values of the photograph and assigns fuel types, however this process still needs work and there needs to be a statistical (perhaps a three dimensional regression)process developed to better attempt a realistic virtual forest.

Streamline the modeling processes into a computer application with emphasis on ease of use and faster computation.

A lot of work has been done in this area. Recently the fire modeling processes have been encapsulated into a java application. It uses the swing library at its best to give the user the best graphical representation of the virtual fire. It has been placed within a GUI named Phoenix.


Team 7 has its work cut out for itself. There is a lot to do on both the satellite forest modeling and even more on the empirical testing and validation of the Elliptical Fire Theory and the fire program at its intrinsic level.

Borlawsky T. (2000) Forest fire simulation using percolation theory. (Independent Research).

Finey, M. (2002) Australian Mathematical Society Fire Growth Using Minimum Travel Time Methods.

Finney, M. (1998). FARSITE: Fire area simulator- model development and analysis. USDA USFS. (Research Paper).
RMRS-RP-4 Revised

Rein, G, Amnon B, Carlos Fernandez-Pello, A, Norman, A. (2005). A comparison of three models for the simulation of accidental fires. Journal of Fire Protection Engineering 16(3) 183-21.

Richards, G, Bryce, R. (1995). A computer algorithm for simulating the spread of wildland fire perimeters for heterogeneous fuel and meteorological conditions. Int. J. Wildl. Fire. 5(2):73-80.

Team Members:

  Catherine Fessler
  Christopher Morrison

Sponsoring Teacher: Janet Penevolpe

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