Predicting Path of Spreading Wildfires

February 18, 2019

A University of Missouri researcher is teaming up with scholars in Kansas and Georgia to develop drone technology to monitor and potentially predict the spread of wildfires. The $1.2 million project will use drones to collect real-time data and send it to firefighters to help them contain wildfires, the Columbia Missourian reported.

“Currently, the (nation’s) firefighting, or fire management system, is not very effective and efficient,” said professor Ming Xin. “One of the main issues is we cannot predict where fires spread.”

Xin is working with University of Kansas professor Haiyang Chao and Georgia State University professor Xiaolin Hu in the wake of nearly 56,000 wildfires across the country last year.

The Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation are sponsoring the project.

Xin said the drones follow a simulation that can precisely predict where a fire will spread for the next 10 to 30 minutes. The drones collect real-time data with thermal imaging cameras and sensors that help estimate the wind field.

The most significant factors affecting the spread of a wildfire are an area’s terrain, vegetation and weather, Xin said.

While information on an area’s terrain and vegetation can be collected from a geological survey, the area’s weather patterns are more difficult to determine.

Xin hopes the technology will help firefighters see the scene of a fire on a larger scale. The researchers plan to launch test flights this summer.