Scientists Upend Assumptions About How Wildfires Spread

July 27, 2015
Photo: Wildfire slurry bomber at sunset, Loveland, Colo 2010 (AP)ASSOCIATED PRESS
A slurry bomber drops fire retardant on a burning ridge as the sun sets behind it as a wildfire burns west of Loveland, Colorado,  in this Sept. 12, 2010, file photo.

The new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has upended the assumption that wildfires grow based on how radiant heat -- the warmth of a fire -- is blown by the wind.  From a U.S. Forest Service statement:

A team of scientists, led by Mark Finney of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, began looking at flame dynamics.

Utilizing specialized burn chambers and wind tunnels at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab and the University of Maryland, scientists were able to assimilate and measure flame dynamics. 

Researchers found that it’s convection at the core of a fire that governs the spread of wildfires. That means that the superheated gases released by combustion ignite more fuel and drive a fire forward. The process of convection outweighs terrain as well.

Researchers say knowing how a fire spreads should make fighting them safer and could help officials more accurately issue evacuation notices.

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