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The Science of Firefighting

The Science of Firefighting



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Jed Boal ReportingWhen the Blue Springs fire raged out of control Monday night and threatened New Harmony, erratic winds drove the flames. Weather controls the fire and Southern Utah weather has been extreme.

Wildfires close to containment can quickly roar out of control. Fire is predictable to a point, but always capable of defying prediction. Ed Delgado is the Predictive Services Manager at the Eastern Great Basin Coordinating Center.

Ed Delgado, Predictive Services Manager: "Our job is to look beyond the next 24-48 hours and help pre-position resources so that we don't have to get behind the eight ball when fires do break out."

Their information helps fire dispatchers decide where to send firefighting resources. Humidity and wind are always the greatest factors; fine fuels like grass dry out in low humidity.

Ed Delgado: "We're dealing with lightning starting the fire, and wind is always a factor in driving the fire."

That's been the prescription so far this fire season. The terrain predictably heats up in the afternoon. Air moves up the slopes because warm air rises and fans the fire. In the evening as the terrain cools and humidity rises air moves down the slopes and settles the fire.

Ed Delgado, Predictive Services Manager: "At night you have your most favorable conditions for trying to suppress or at least catch up where the daytime got ahead of you."

That's predictable, but for several days a large system, an upper level low, has added stronger winds to the upslope winds.

Ed Delgado: "They bring a lot of momentum down that over powsers those diurnal winds. While they're predictable, they can overpower any suppression efforts."

That system should move out and provide a more stable pattern and better conditions for firefighting.

Ed Delgado: "It'll still be warm and dry so the fuels will still be receptive to fire, but we're not going to see a lot of starts over the next couple of days."

A more predictable pattern, but never entirely predictable. The fire manager says one lightning outbreak can change everything.

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