Modeling Wildfires: Past, Present and Future


  • In 2012, wildland fires burned more than 4.3 million acres, destroying 4244 structures and killing 34 firefighters. An accurate computer model of wildland fire is therefore essential, for land use planning and for real-time operations. In the early 1970's, Richard Rothermel and colleagues developed the first operational fire model. Although it was a great improvement, it cannot model many of the extreme fire behaviors seen today. This talk will discuss projects that seek to improve the accuracy of the models and to allow better use of real-time data. For example, a recent joint project with the US Forest Service showed that fires spread through small-scale, local interactions. A joint project with UC San Diego aims at better use of real-time data. This approach to modeling is similar to weather forecasting.