The The Heat and Fire Expo Asia logo

7 & 8 December 2022


New Technology to Better Predict Fire Forecasts

Firefighters and experts have yearned for a device to predict the way fires will spread precisely but supercomputers and big data have started to show advances in fire forecasting. Forecasts today are based on remote weather stations, satellites and cameras combined with details on the ground level on moisture and vegetation.

Cal Fire operates technology systems created by La Jolla-based Technosylva and was brought under an $8.8 million dollar contract but has yet to be fully distributed by the agency. Despite its exclusiveness, the program has already been used by many Cal Fire analysts who ran practice simulations of where flames are expected to be eight hours after they began.

Despite technological advances, it’s still exceedingly difficult for experts, engineers and researchers to predict the path of a large and dangerous fire. In an extreme wildfire setting, there are risk mitigation devices and strategies set in place but the science is still considered adolescent. 

Chris Lautenberger, the co-founder of Reax Engineering which holds a contract with PG&E, says, “there’s really only one model that’s used for fire spread models — it’s the Rothermel model...Technosylva uses that, our model uses that. So what differs from model to model is more the assumptions and approximations that are made”. The Rothermel Model was created in 1972 and is an equation that models ground fires in light brush and grass. It pioneered the industry by setting a foundation for most predictive models.