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New 3D tool assists firefighters in predicting fire behavior

3D models can give firefighters the safest approach choice that meets burning objectives, while at the same time predicting smoke conditions


Output from processing of terrestrial laser scanning data, representing an important fuel characteristic “surface area” as illustrated by the different colors. This is input to next-generation fire behavior models.

Photo/ Eric Rowell, Tall Timbers Research Station

By FireRescue1 Staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new tool from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help predict fire behavior, giving firefighters the potential to manage controlled burns more safely.

Using 3D fuel models, land managers can model forest fires, giving firefighters data to develop better strategies and help predict future fire behavior.

The tool was recently tested at in Florida with Louise Loudermilk, a research ecologist at the USDA Forest Service’s Southern Research Station.

“These fire models can output various scenarios of fire behavior that help inform quick management decision making,” Loudermilk said.

3D models give firefighters the safest approach choice that meets burning objectives while at the same time predicting smoke conditions.

“This work represents a new era in fuels research because it links fuel ecology with fire behavior. In fire behavior models, fuels traditionally are overgeneralized and have been unable to represent how fuels predict fire behavior. Now fuels can be represented dynamically in three dimensions,” Loudermilk said. “This advancement, which has taken over 10 years to achieve, is like going from a board game to a realistic video game.”

The data collected on fuels will be available across the U.S. for landscapes, giving land managers the ability to select the data in their area to run 3D fire simulations, benefiting education and fire management.