U researchers funded to study wildfires

By Veronica Pineda, Staff Writer

With Utah entering its dangerous wildfire season, U researchers are preparing themselves to better understand the hot and dangerous disasters.

On July 1, Jim Matheson, D-Utah, announced that researchers at the U’s atmospheric sciences department have received a third and final installment of a federal grant to study the events that favor wildfire growth and behavior.

The grant, worth $99,258, comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. It’s a timely delivery 8212; Utah experienced a handful of blazes in a single day on July 8.

This installment will fund work with a wildland-urban-interface fire dynamics simulator (WFDS), which, according to department professor Steven Krueger, will improve methods “to forecast the occurrence of unanticipated, erratic, or dangerous wildfire behavior.”

The WFDS works on a larger scale than the standard fire dynamic simulator because of the larger terrain it covers. It’s able to capture the smaller interactions between flames and heat transfer.

Variables such as heat, oxygen, and fuel &- which are required for the fire to grow &- can be modified to create different scenarios of a wildfire in these computer simulations.
When dynamics such as wind and terrain are added into the equation, it creates other complications that make the fire more unpredictable.

“It’s completely turbulent,” said Adam Kochanski, a department researcher. “You have to take into account all those factors.”

During the summer, when the mountain’s vegetation becomes dry, the risk for wildfires skyrockets. Matheson, whose district includes the foothills and mountains in eastern Salt Lake County, publicized his concern over this matter.

“Lives have been lost and millions of dollars in property damage have occurred in recent years from catastrophic wildfires in the West, particularly in those areas where development and forests meet,” he said.

Understanding wildfire phenomena will allow researchers at the U and beyond to discern ways to protect the communities and buildings in the urban interface as well as reduce the risk for firefighters.

“If you know how the fire will propagate, you will know how to fight the fire line and learn to suppress it,” Kochanski said.

The department just submitted their next proposal to the NIST, the purpose of which is to research the possibility of having fast, useful fire forecasting in the near future.

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