Grassland Fire Characterization

Photo of Jan-Michael Cabrera, Matthew Koopersmith, Andrew Kurzawski Students: Jan-Michael Cabrera, Matthew Koopersmith, Andrew Kurzawski

Sponsor: The University of Texas at Austin

Date: Spring 2011

All experiments were constrained to the 20 x 20 ft. burn building on the Pickle Research Campus For intermediate-scale testing, variable wind speed was required in order to determine wind speed on flame spread and ember production. Small-scale testing required a variable radiation heat flux source ranging from 0 to 60 kW/m2.

Recently, wildfires have been on the rise, burning about 1.6 million acres from December 2005 to April 2006 and over 2 million acres in 2011. The UT fire research group, headed by Dr. Ofodike A. Ezekoye, in collaboration with the Texas Forest Service is interested in developing expertise in wildland fire and tasked the UTME Embers team to develop an experimental framework for characterizing grass fire spread. In order to accurately simulate ember production, the dynamics involved in grass fire propagation, heat rate, mass loss, etc., must be understood through experimentation.

The experiments were conducted to acquire several key properties of little bluestem, a very common grass in Texas. These values were then used to create an accurate simulation in Wildland-Urban Fire Dynamics Simulator. The software can be used on a large scale to predict flame spread and better allocate resources for firefights. The framework for collecting these properties can be reused for different vegetation and for other areas with wildfire concerns. An ember collection system was also used in the testing and software was used to determine the size and amount of embers generated. The ember research indicates that the embers are much smaller than the vents on homes and that increased protection is needed to further combat damage from lofted embers.

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