Wildfire Simulation Technology – Part 2

In the summer of 2003, a wildfire was threatening the Montana town of Hungry Horse. Several simulations were run by scientists who had combined data on the conditions of the fire, fuel, and weather to provide a forecast of what the fire would do.

As with many of the USFS programs, Prometheus can be loaded onto a personal computer for use in the field or command post applications. The requirements for a computer to be able to run this modeling software fall within the parameters of most laptops/desktops and can be seen at http://firegrowthmodel.ca/requirements.html.

For more information on this software, visit http://www.firegrowthmodel.com.


The U.S. and Canada aren’t the only countries doing wildfire simulation research. CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is Australia's largest public research organization. It conducts strategic research in a wide range of areas, including bushfire simulations.

SiroFire, “The CSIRO Bushfire Spread Simulator,” was created by CSIRO’s former Bushfire Behaviour and Management Group (http://www.csiro.au/solutions/SiroFire-Overview.html) as a PC-based decision support application designed to assist fire controllers in predicting the likely spread of a fire under forecast weather conditions. Launched in 1994, SiroFire uses information such as temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, fuel load and conditions, grass curing, slope, and the selected fire spread model to predict the spread of a bushfire and plot the perimeter on a map of the area of interest. Instead of performing laborious calculations with slide rules and plotting results manually on a map, fire controllers can use this system to perform the same task in seconds. Although primarily developed for use as an operation tool for real-world situations, a bonus of the software is that it can also be used for training and simulation.

But CSIRO doesn’t stop there. They also field a number of free computer programs for bushfire prediction and management, including:

  • McArthur MK 5 Forest Fire Danger Meter is assisting rural fire authorities across Australia. You can download an 855 KB zip file to use the CSIRO McArthur MK 5 Forest Fire Danger Meter as a computer program. To see more information and download a copy of McArthur, go to http://www.csiro.au/products/McArthur-Fire-Danger-Meter-Download.html.
  • CSIRO Fire Danger and Fire Spread Calculator is a computer program available as a 943 Kb zip file that can be downloaded for use in assisting rural fire authorities across Australia. Go to http://www.csiro.au/products/Fire-Danger-And-Spread-Calculator.html for more information and a downloadable file.
  • Grassland Fire Danger Meter is used by rural fire authorities to predict the risk of grassland fires. Go to http://www.csiro.au/products/Grass-Fire-Danger-Meter.html for more info.
  • CSIRO Grassland Fire Spread Meter is used by rural fire authorities to predict a fire’s potential rate of forward spread across continuous grassland in gently undulating terrain. More information can be found at http://www.csiro.au/products/GrassFireSpreadMeter.html.
  • CSIRO House Survival Meter provides homeowners with a guide to the probability of a house surviving a bushfire based on six important factors. More information can be found at http://www.csiro.au/products/HouseSurvivalMeter.html.
  • CSIRO Fire Spread Meter for Northern Australia predicts the rate of spread of fires in open grassland, woodland, and open forest with a grassy understory. Further information can be obtained at http://www.csiro.au/products/NthAustFireSpreadMeter.html.

For an overview of all of these products, go to http://www.csiro.au/science/Bushfires/Business--group-Product.html.

As can be seen from the preceding information, many software tools to help fire managers are available from various agencies. These agencies are not resting on their laurels, however, and new software will become available in the future, so it is wise to check in on the websites given above from time to time. Who knows, the next innovation may save your bacon (and someone’s home) the next time wildfires come calling!

MIKE ARCHER is an author, wildfire consultant, systems engineer, and public speaker who has been interviewed by CBS News, KABC-TV, USA Today, and the Associated Press on wildfire topics, and has been part of a delegation testifying before government bodies (including Congress and the California Senate) on fire-related issues. He runs the Wildfire News of the Day blog and Firebomber Publications.