New Tech Could Do Wonders for Wildfire Control



Experts in California have come up with a way to help firefighters find quicker solutions when responding to wildfires.

To do this, they have incorporated the use of a tool that simulates fires in specific areas, projects the spread of fire and predicts forces of nature that may affect wildfire situations.

The Visualization Center at San Diego State University (SDSU) is currently working with SimTable, a New Mexico-based company that develops innovations in simulating emergency management.

“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,” said Justin Freiler Center manager and Graduate Program coordination in Homeland Security. The former firefighter noted that the simulation technology provides more hands-on experience, as it provides a broader perspective of wildfire situations.

The tool projects a map on a shell powder-filled sandbox that can be shaped into the topography of specific areas. A user can simulate fire by sparking a visual flame on an area of choice, and watch what happens as the fire spreads, in 3D.

The software can analyze data like wind speed, then allowing the map to reveal how long it can take for the fire to spread, and to which directions it can further go.

According to Freiler, the map allows users to roughly estimate what a fire can do in an exact place during an exact time, and more importantly, give users an idea of where the safest evacuation places could be. Homeowners, first respondents, firefighters and government officials can better understand what to do during such emergency situations.

The software incorporates a technology called Geographical Information System (GIS) which allows users to input data on a map.

“Instead of just a map where you can visualize, it actually allows you to look at data and how that data can be manipulated to change the map,” explained Lance Larson, Assistant Director of the Graduate Program in Homeland Security.

The SDSU and SimTable partnership is also looking into developing an app version of the software, to make it readily available to firefighters and first responders during an actual wildfire situation. A simple tap on a smartphone could go a long way and put out fires in no time.

By Jill Arce

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