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Students Research Grassland Fires in Central Texas

The UTME Embers Teams: (from L-R) Andrew Kurzawski, Matthew Koopersmith and Jan-Michael Cabrera.

The UTME Embers Teams: (from L-R) Andrew Kurzawski, Matthew Koopersmith and Jan-Michael Cabrera.

AUSTIN, TEXAS—May 26, 2011

A team of three recent graduates, who call themselves the UTME Embers team, from The University of Texas at Austin's Department of Mechanical Engineering began working on grassland fire research as part of their senior design course. This was a semester-long research project where students work with industry or government entities on varied design projects. The students, who were advised by Professor Ofodike Ezekoye with the UT Fire Research Group, are developing an experimental framework to better understand flame spread and fuel properties in grassland fires. This experimental framework will aid in understanding how grass fires propagate, thus increasing the capabilities of communities and emergency personnel to protect against the grassland fire threat.

Andrew Kurzawski collecting grass for experiments

Andrew Kurzawski collecting grass for experiments

Since the beginning of 2011, over 1.8 million acres have burned in Texas alone. Because of dry climate, high winds, and abundance of wildland, Texas is frequently faced with the threat of wildfires that can endanger many homes throughout the state. Homes located in the wildlife urban interface are at risk of being ignited by embers generated from wildland fires.

The group found that much of the lofted embers from grass fires in their wind driven tests were much smaller than the vent screen size cited in California building codes. Because of the prevalence of grassland at the urban interface in plains regions of Texas, the team thinks that Texas communities need to investigate whether changes should be made in building codes regarding grass ember penetration into roof and foundation vents.

The University of Texas Fire Research Group

Dr. Ezekoye's graduate students, Craig Weinschenk, Kristopher Overholt, and Morgan Bruns, served as mentors for the former undergraduates. They shared knowledge of fire science and programming, and taught the team members how to use fire simulation software. The UT Fire Research Group is currently working on room-scale fire experiments, computational fire modeling, ventilation effects on compartment fires, and fire induced glass failure. The group is collaborating with the Texas Forest Service (TFS) to develop a better understanding of wildland fire behavior.

KXAN News Coverage

KXAN Austin News did the following news coverage on the UTME Embers Team's project.

grassland fires

University of Texas at Austin students studying grass fire threat: kxan.com