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Forest Fires - How They Percolate

Forest Fires - How They Percolate.
by J. Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Forest Fires - their value.

The many benefits of forest fire include the converse of the problems due to lack of fire and rigorous fire suppression. Such problems are listed in Fire in Sierra Nevada Forests: A Photographic Interpretation of Ecological Change Since 1849 by George E. Gruell.

Forest Fires - how they spread.

If all the trees along one edge of the forest are suddenly set on fire:

If the trees are sparse and scattered over a large area:

If the trees are crowded (scattered randomly, they tend to form large clusters):

Forest Fires - model on how they spread.

B.U. Center for Polymer Studies has developed the Blaze Applet to provide an automated model of forest management and fire fighting.

In this model, you're responsible for growing and harvesting trees on a plot of land. Your income increases with the number of trees you harvest.

When the forest is established, a forest fire starts. The more trees that survive the fire, the greater your profit.

The computer program lets you choose:

If you plant trees with low density, you won't harvest many trees. But a fire will not spread far so you will mot lose many trees.

If you plant trees with high density, fire will spread through your forest. And here also you will have only a small harvest.

How do you find a suitable tree density (value of "p") that gives you a large harvest while controling the spread of fire?

An additional variable of the model is that you can fight the fire! You can maneuver a helicopter to drop water to slow down the fire. Dump water on trees ahead of the fire to prevent them from burning.

When the fire has burned out, your score is shown. It is based on the number of unburned trees and the dryness of the forest.

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Resources - Related pages.