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Study of the Reliability of Fire Pattern Indicators Used in Wildland Fire Investigation

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2020, $519,893)

This project will address the crucial need in wildland fire and arson investigation to better and more reliably pinpoint the area and point of origin. It will represent the first systematic study on the reliability of the fire pattern indicators. Field and laboratory experiments will be used to provide statistically-representative datasets of indicator reliability, individually and in patterns.

The work will be tied directly to the end-users and past fire investigations. Every year, two field campaigns will be conducted in the NJ Pine Barrens, with the US Forest Service (USFS) and the NJ Forest Fire Service (NJFFS). The USFS will assist in characterizing vegetation and measuring fire behavior. The NJFSS will manage the burns and will conduct several blind investigations to support the assessment of indicator reliability in the realistic context of an investigation. Vegetation and fire behavior will be measured and correlated to the appearance of fire indicators on vegetation and planted artifacts. These correlations will provide insight on how indicators are formed and how reliable they can be in providing information about fire spread.

Additional experiments will be performed at WPI and in a wind-tunnel under various conditions. The conditions will be chosen to generate different fire exposures for the physical supports of the indicators. The experiments will be used as a reliable and highly-repeatable platform to systematically span the range of conditions encountered in the field by varying wind, slope, fuel moisture content, and vegetation layout conditions.

The data will be statistically analyzed and the reliability of each indicator will be evaluated under different conditions. The indicators will also be assessed in clusters contributing to create fire patterns. Each step will be linked to the measured fire behavior and the exposure conditions. Investigators from the NJFFS will help define reliability criteria and provide feedback on the consistency and adequacy of the laboratory and field experiments. Past fire investigations will be used to inform the exposure conditions to use in the laboratory experiments and to compare the experimental results to what was observed in actual fires.

The results will be shared to improve guides and trainings in fire investigation. And the protocols and methods will be proposed as the reference for further reliability studies under other conditions and ecosystems elsewhere in the United States. Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14). CA/NCF

Date Created: October 22, 2020