This forecast model allows anyone to track potential wildfire growth

31 August 2023

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USA – The PyreCast fire behavior model has been in use experimentally for the past three years. Fire analysts are working on identifying best practices for decision-making when fighting wildfires.

When battling California’s biggest wildfires, the more reliable information crews have, the better.

As fire science becomes more well-understood, predictive models can be used as a guideline for projecting potential fire activity hours and days into the future.

Those models make calculated forecasts using current fire intensity, terrain and fuel types, as well as anticipated weather conditions.

PyreCast is one of those models. It has been in use experimentally for several years. During that time, wildfire analysts have been assessing the accuracy of PyreCast’s outlooks by comparing forecasts to actual fire growth.

Zeke Lunder is a wildfire analyst with Deer Creek Resources in Chico and has worked in fire and forestry for nearly 30 years.

“[PyreCast] does the job that some other modeling software can do, but it’s easier to run,” Lunder said. “It’s not always incredibly accurate, but it does give a good idea of the alignment of the fire with the weather.”

Lunder recalls PyreCast predicting fast growth in the Bear Fire in 2020 and the Dixie Fire in 2021. In both cases, the model underestimated the rate at which those fires would explode, yet in the case of the Bear Fire, it did buy some time for warning.

“It felt like it gave us a couple of hours’ notice to call the sheriff and say, ‘Hey, this is happening. Pay attention. This is going to be big,” Lunder said.

While it is not currently used in regular decision-making for incident command teams, PyreCast is one tool that crews can use to highlight the threat of big changes.

“I think the model does a good job of showing that the weather is changing, there’s potential for new things to happen, and people should just be heads up,” Lunder said.

Anyone can look at a PyreCast forecast

PyreCast is available for anyone to use. It is important to remember that a model forecast is just one idea of future possibilities and that no model is perfectly accurate.

This link takes you to a home screen showing current active wildfires across the United States. A menu on the left side of the screen allows you to choose a specific fire to analyze.

Available map overlays can display current satellite data on hotspots, locations of buildings and transmission lines, as well as predicted perimeters.

A separate section of the map displays a high-resolution analysis of fuel types throughout the U.S.

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