WIFIRE Helps Firefighters Stop The Spread of Wildfires

Written by Courtney Subramanian

As wildfires continue to grip much of Northern California and southern Oregon, firefighters are scrambling to contain the flames while officials are organizing evacuations.

Wildfires spread fast, and a change of wind can make it difficult to track where the flames are moving, which is why computer scientists at the University of San Diego are tapping big data to help forecast the path of destruction in real time.

WIFIRE, a cyber infrastructure system, uses weather sensors and satellite images to analyze the progress of a wildfire and where it’s likely to move in real-time — helping firefighters to make better decisions, according to InformationWeek.

Though WIFIRE is still being developed, the goal is to scale a version that could be used elsewhere in the country where communities are dealing with the natural disaster. In fact, recent reports have found wildfires are growing more intense and more destructive across the western United States.

“Imagine that you could have a detailed model of a wildfire path and you could actually compute the progress of the flames faster than real time and provide advanced warning to the first responders,” says Larry Smarr, a computer scientist with the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology.

This type of technology is precisely what could help reduce the financial toll a wildfire takes on a community after the ashes have settled. For example, the 2003 Cedar Fire in Southern California, the largest in the state’s history, left an estimated $2 billion worth of damages.

Though it’s currently a local project in San Diego, some pilot applications are currently available, according to Ilkay Altintas, director for the Scientific Workflow Automation Technologies Lab at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, who is heading the project.

Scientists are planning to make WIFIRE  available to users through a web interface with real-time alerts sent to receivers before, during and after a fire. The potential would give authorities a leg up on organizing evacuations and putting emergency responders in place to prevent the spread of fires similar to the one blazing through Northern California.


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This post originally appeared on NationSwell.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

To me, this seems to say that they could project the fire's direction and intensity. If this is the case, I really hope it works out for them. The wild fires in Cal can be horrific for the fire fighters.

Rosa Caldwell
Rosa Caldwell3 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Marcia Geiger
Marcia Geiger3 years ago

NK, I don't know how the volunteers would benefit. One of the last big ones was started by campers who were not supposed to be there and didn't put their campfire out, I hope that they have had judgement. One of the others was lightening strike.
I don't doubt that problems are caused by folk who would benefit, but just don't see it in this area.
I certainly hope that the computer program is up soon, The memory of the gruesome deaths of the Hotshots still is with me.

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

good idea, thanks

JL A3 years ago

every little bit of extra could help save lives and property

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Thanks for the article.

Nikolas K.
Nikolas K3 years ago

There is more to these fires than meets the eye one just needs to look at who profits from this annual event of fires, especially when its usually the volunteer fire fighters who are able to benefit from these fires, we have had many found to have started fires here in Australia caught.But we never hear of a conviction, so one has to wonder just what is really going on. Its time we also looked at living underground is fire prone areas, maybe the ancient people who lived under ground has a reason such as fires to build magnificent cities underground as we are now discovering.

BJ J3 years ago

Would this be similar to the SIMS table?

Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago