University Of Wyoming Model Predicts Wildfire Growth

Oct 26, 2020

Over 8 million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires so far this year.
Credit U.S. Department of Agriculture

Researchers at the University of Wyoming are developing and testing a computer model that predicts wildfire growth.

UW researcher Cory Ott said the WyoFire model takes in data about a fire when it starts, as well as moisture and weather in the area. He said the computer simulates a growing fire thousands of times, then spits out how big the fire is likely to get.

Ott said he tested the model by comparing its results to satellite images of actual wildfires. He said in grasslands the model overpredicts fire growth, but in forests the model will underpredict.

"If we know we're gonna underpredict that's huge to know that and by how much because that's the difference between the community being evacuated," said Ott. "Understanding the model, understanding how the model performs, is extremely important."

Now that they know how the model performs, Ott said they can customize it to work better in different environments.

"Our model is performing well in all fuel types," he said. "It's not just performing well in beetle kill, like a forested terrain, it's doing well out in grasses and on different surfaces, in rough terrain and smooth terrain."

Ott said the ultimate goal is to make a model that will help keep communities and firefighters safe.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.