Since 2017, in modeling the threat from wildfire on communities in California, the significant new RMS innovation has been in capturing the process of “spotting” (i.e. identifying new outbreaks of fire far from the fire-front). Strong dry winds bring swarms of glowing embers from a raging wildland fire, which can travel long distances. Should these embers settle on shingle roofs, wooden patios or a leaf-filled plastic gutter, a fire will start. Unchecked, the fire will consume a house.
In high-density housing suburbs, wind-driven fire can spread from building to building and consume a whole neighborhood – as happened in the city of Santa Rosa in 2017. And the only way to stop an outbreak is to intervene: to extinguish each ember-ignited fire before it can spread.
Modeling ember ignitions requires sampling the speed and direction of the wind and also anticipating what proportion of fire-starts get extinguished before they can spread. Still it only takes one unchecked fire to burn down the town.
This same process, in modeling “spotting”, is key to anticipating the spread of the new coronavirus into western Europe and North America.Continue reading