COLLEGE STATION, Texas, 9 March 2005 — Smokey the Bear says only you canprevent forest fires, but new software being developed by an industrial engineerat Texas A&M University may help in controlling the blazes after they’vestarted.
Dr. Lewis Ntaimo, assistant professor of industrial engineering, is designingand developing software to predict the direction and speed of ignited forestfires.
Ntaimo is creating software that can model mathematical equations using windspeed and direction, slope conditions, temperature, and the nature of the forest.The software then creates a simulation of the fire’s spread over several hours,which can predict in which direction the fire will spread, which will aidfirefighters in controlling and suppressing the fire. The simulation tool couldbe used in real time or what researchers call “as-fast-as-can”tactical decision-making time.
Ntaimo is collaborating with Dr. Bernard P. Zeigler and Ph.D. student BithikaKhargharia from the University of Arizona, and Dr. Maria Vasconcelos from theTropical Research Institute in Portugal. Their research was published in theOctober 2004 issue of Simulation Journal, Vol. 80, Issue 10.
The experimental software uses standard fuel models to predict fire spread inboth uniform environmental conditions, such as forest terrain, and non-uniformcondition, such as wind velocity. Eventually, the software will be linked to ageological information system that will run with local weather stations to givemore accurate predictions.
Ntaimo got interested in the research as a Ph.D. student at the University ofArizona in 2003.
“It’s more like a hobby than work — it’s very real and practical, andless abstract. It’s invigorating to see people envisioning this when we showthem the research,” Ntaimo said.
The software prototype, which should be completed by December 2005, isintended for both commercial uses worldwide as well as for educational purposes.Originally funded by the University of Arizona, Ntaimo and Ziegler are nowworking to get funding from government agencies such as the National ScienceFoundation and the Environmental Protection Agency to continue their work.