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  • Amanda Mahaffey

Field Trip Recap: Experimental wind tunnel tour for wildland fire applications

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Field Trip Recap: Experimental wind tunnel tour for wildland fire applications. All photos by Amanda Mahaffey.

(Don’t miss the videos of the tour and wind tunnel experiment linked on our event page!)

On a fair September afternoon, NAFSE held its first-ever indoor field trip. We were hosted by Dr. Albert Simeoni and numerous colleagues and graduate students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute fire lab for a full afternoon of lab-based fire experiments that lead to wildland fire applications. A great group of scientists and fire managers participated and interacted with each other over lunch and throughout the tour.

To set the stage, Dr. Simeoni outlined the long history of fire research at WPI, which houses the one of the oldest collections of fire protection research in the country. Since its founding in 1865, WPI has strived to educate aspiring professional engineers and scientists through hands-on practice and applied instruction. Today, Dr. Simeoni’s work is part of the Strategic Environmental Research and Developmen Program (SERDP) in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service and several universities. NAFSE’s webinar series, “Fine Scale, Big Scale: Wildland Fire Dynamics Research for Informed Management,” highlights the work of these project collaborators who seek to understand, quantify, and predict wildland fire behavior based on multiple scales of research.

The NAFSE field trip to WPI highlighted the laboratory-scale experiments and their application to real-life wildland fire conundrums. How fast does fire burn through different fine fuel types? What if the wind is blowing? How can we predict fire behavior in pitch pine-scrub oak forest ecosystems under different conditions? How are fuel cans and chainsaws designed for safe transportation and use by wildland firefighters? What happens when fuels burn on open water?

During this field trip, the group visited the Combustions Lab, observed a sample run in the fire propagation apparatus, and watched fire spread in the wind tunnel. Thanks to the background talks, these seemingly simple experiments took on new meaning. The field trip participants gained a new appreciation for the challenges – and successes – in quantifying fire behavior. Throughout the afternoon, the focus was not only on the technical details of the experiments themselves, but how they will be translated to wildland fire situations. Some of these experiments are still in their early stages, but the SERDP team and WPI researchers hope to have applicable answers to some of these questions in the next few years. In the meantime, the fire manager community will help keep the research real by continually raising new and important questions for these fire protection engineers.

Checking out the portable wind tunnel.

See our event page for videos of each speaker on the field trip!


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