Using computer simulations to study complex fire behavior [abstract]
Document Type: Conference Paper
Author(s): Rodman R. Linn
Editor(s): Leon F. Neuenschwander; Kevin C. Ryan; Greg E. Gollberg
Publication Year: 2000

Cataloging Information

  • computer programs
  • conservation
  • energy
  • evolution
  • fire management
  • forest management
  • fuel moisture
  • fuel types
  • histories
  • Idaho
  • JFSP - Joint Fire Science Program
  • Los Alamos
  • moisture
  • New Mexico
  • species diversity (animals)
  • species diversity (plants)
  • wildfires
  • wildlife habitat management
  • wind
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: March 16, 2021
FRAMES Record Number: 44199
Tall Timbers Record Number: 19522
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Researchers have been using models to predict and study wildfire behavior for approximately fifty years. These models range in complexity from simple algebraic models that may be implemented in graphical form or on hand-held calculators to complex formulations that are implemented on large computers. The models of different complexities are appropriate for different applications based on environmental conditions of the modeled fires, the completeness of the available fuels and weather data, the computational resources available,and the time urgency of the results. Many of the more complex models are not currently suitable for faster than real time applications because of their very computationally intensive nature, but their more complete nature allows them to be used to examine some of the more complex wildfire behaviors. FIRETEC is a wildfire behavior model being developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and is based on conservation of mass, momentum, species, and energy. FIRETEC is a transport formulation and is therefore capable of accounting for time and space history. We are using FIRETEC in conjunction with a sophisticated fine-scale atmospheric model, HIGRAD, to examine some of the complexities of wildfire behavior that are difficult to study with simpler models. Examples of the types of physical phenomenon that we are examining are the effects of transient wind conditions, the effects of inhomogeneous terrain, the effects of moisture on fire behavior in complex conditions, and the efects of different vertical structure on fire behavior. Simulations performed with FIRETEC/HIGRAD show that the wildfire behavior is dependent not only on current wind conditions but also on the evolution of a wind field. We see that under certain evolving weather conditions it is impossible to predict the wildfire behavior without incorporating information about the history of the wind field. FIRETEC is being used to investigate the conditions under which it is necessary to incorporate the history of a transient wind field. The effects of inhomogeneous terrain are also being examined with FIRETEC/HIGRAD. We are examining the non-local effects of terrain variations and investigating the terrain conditions where wildfire behavior models must incorporate more than just the slope at a particular location. Recently we have been using FIRETEC to look at the effects of moisture on wildfire behavior. The qualitative effects of moisture on many aspects of wildflres has been known for many years, but models like FIRETEC give us tools to examine wildfire responses to moisture quantitatively and in greater detail. Until we reach the point where models such as FIRETEC can be used for operational purposes, we can use them to learn more about the physical processes that current operational models do not adequately represent. By studying these physical processes we can better develop the simple models and determine situations where they are not appropriate and should be used with caution. © University of Idaho 2000. Abstract reproduced by permission.

Online Link(s):
Linn, R. 2000. Using computer simulations to study complex fire behavior [abstract], in Neuenschwander, L. F., Ryan, K. C., and Gollberg, G. E., Joint Fire Science Conference and Workshop Proceedings: 'Crossing the Millennium: Integrating Spatial Technologies and Ecological Principles for a New Age in Fire Management'. Boise, Idaho. University of Idaho and the International Association of Wildland Fire,Moscow, ID and Fairfield, WA. Vol. II, p. 110,