by Rick Groleau
When is it acceptable to set a fire that could rage out of control? In the real world, the answer, of course, is never. But if you're in the virtual world of a computer model, starting such a fire is not only acceptable but potentially beneficial.
Not surprisingly, Mark Finney of the U.S. Forest Service's Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory and the creator of FARSITE, a fire-growth computer program, sees the value of simulations, as do others in the forestry community. These men and women use computer models not only to simulate real and potential wildland fires and the methods of controlling these fires, but as a tool to help manage forests that will someday burn.
NOVA Online has developed its own version of a fire-growth computer simulation. Its purpose is to show how conditions such as wind speed and direction can affect a fire's spread and to show how firefighters use firelines and backfires to control a wildland fire.
Rick Groleau is managing editor of NOVA Online.
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