CAN A FIRE BE PRECISELY PREDICTED?
For years, no weather model could accurately predict how a bushfire would spread. That’s because the fires heat up the air so much that it moves 1,000 times faster than air currents warmed by the sun. These movements were too much for computers. But now French researcher Jean-baptiste Filippi and his team have developed a model using a supercomputer that will be the first of its kind. The algorithms will make it possible to simulate exactly what’s happening on the fire frontline, as well as calculating which plants will burn more quickly than others and whether the fire is still spreading or has been extinguished. The crucial factor is the effect of the fires on the weather. “The heat of the fire generates an extremely powerful movement of air, with wind speeds of 50 metres per second,” says Filippi. “As a result, large clouds form in the atmosphere, which can even lead to rain.” On the other hand, cool air currents can cause strong winds of about 100km/h, which then further exacerbate the fire. “We can use the model to estimate where the smoke of a freshly ignited fire will waft and where we can definitely not allow a large fire to develop,” explains Filippi. “That means we will know in advance where we need to lay firebreaks.”