This past week I had the opportunity to participate in the Large Fires Conference in Missoula, Montana. The conference was a joint effort of the International Association of Wildland Fire and the Association for Fire Ecology. More than 600 wildfire experts from around the globe - New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, France, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and South Africa to name a few were represented at this international conference. The array of presentations was quite remarkable and included presentations from political, social, economic and environmental scientists. The keynote speaker Jerry Williams articulated the current American wildland fire experience quite admirably, as did speakers from Australia and Canada. One of the highlights for me was participation in a field trip to the famous USFS Missoula Fire Science Lab. The research being conducted at this facility is quite remarkable and something we as a nation should be proud of. Currently researchers are focussed on the physics of fire ignition to help improve our understanding of wildland fire behavior. One of the more interesting findings of late is the critical role convection plays in fire spread. The implications of these findings may ultimately result in significant wildland firefighting safety policy changes in the future.
Image 1: Researchers demonstrating how they go about testing the physical properties of fire whirls using two different laboratory techniques to replicate the phenomenon. The first image shows a closed system where a vortex is used to simulate a fire whirl. The second picture shows an open system where the predetermined configuration of the flames can be combined to create a fire whirl.
Image 2: Shows the progression of controlled test fire in a wind tunnel, that is scaled down for experimental purposes to try and better understand the physics of fire spread. The material substrate is lazer cut cardboard that resembles haircombs arranged at set intervals to create uniform fuel for the flaming front. By executing these experiments, researchers are able to better define fire characteristics that ultimately will help wildland fire managers make better decisions in the event of a wildfire or when doing mitigation planning in and around communities.