New SDSU Program Helps Predict Spread of Wildfires Amid Drought

Firefighters in Southern California battling wildfires year-round may soon have one more tool to help them under their belt. 

This tool, however, would not be in the field with them. 

San Diego State University’s Visualization Center, in partnership with New Mexico-based company SimTable, have developed a modeling software that helps predict the spread of wildfires.

As California heads into its fourth year of severe drought, a lack of recent rain and an increase in dead trees have escalated fire conditions. The conditions on record heading into the heat of the 2015 fire season are some of the worst on record, Cal Fire told NBC 7. 

Justin Freiler, manager of the center and a former firefighter, said as firefighters work to battle fires in the field, watching a simulated spread on similar conditions may help them develope a better intuition when fighting them. 

“When I was a firefighter, you’d see a fire coming at you and you’d need to count on everyone knowing what to do and where to go,” Freiler said in a statement. “This technology gives a much more hands-on experience, which offers a better understanding of the full aspect of a fire.”

The program projects a map onto a sandbox filled with shell powder which can then be shaped into topography of certain areas. Users can spark a virtual flame anywhere on the three-dimensional model and watch how the flame spreads as it would out in the wild. 

In addition to predicting the spread of fires, users can also measure how extinguishing methods like water drops, firetruck crews, bulldozed fire lines and controlled burns would have an impact on the areas. 

Then, the system will produce data on topography, time of day, wind speed and direction and fuel types in the area to predict how the fire would spread.

“We’re hoping to put this into the hands of first responders who can use it to save lives and structures,” said Lance Larson, assistant director in the SDSU graduate program in homeland security, in a statement.

Developers are working on translating the programming into an application that would be used by firefighters to receive and track how a fire is spreading.

Contact Us