Enhancing Wildfire Propagation Model Predictions Using Aerial Swarm-Based Real-Time Wind Measurements: A Conceptual Framework

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The dynamic behaviour of wildfires is mainly influenced by weather, fuel, and topography. Based on fundamental conservation laws involving numerous physical processes and large scales, atmospheric models require substantial computational resources. Therefore, coupling wildfire and atmospheric models is impractical for high resolutions. Instead, a static atmospheric wind field is typically input into the wildfire model, either as boundary conditions on the control surface or distributed over the control volume. Wildfire propagation models may be (i) data-driven;
theoretical; or
mechanistic surrogates. Data-driven models are beyond the scope of this paper. Theoretical models are based on conservation laws (species, energy, mass, momentum) and are, therefore, computationally intensive; e.g. the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS). Mechanistic surrogate models do not closely follow fire dynamics laws, but related laws observed to make predictions more efficiently with sufficient accuracy; e.g. FARSITE, and FDS with the Level Set model (FDS-LS). Whether theoretical or mechanistic surrogate, these wildfire models may be coupled with or decoupled from wind models (e.g. Navier-Stokes equations). Only coupled models account for the effect of the fire on the wind field. In this paper, a series of simulations of wildfire propagation on grassland are performed using FDS-LS to study the impact of the fire-induced wind on the fire propagation dynamics. Results show that coupling leads to higher Rates of Spread (RoS), closer to those reported from field experiments, with increasing wind speeds and higher terrain slopes strengthening this trend. Aiming to capture the fire–wind interaction without the hefty cost of solving Navier-Stokes equations, a conceptual framework is proposed: 1) a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles measure wind velocities at flight height; 2) the wind field is constructed with the acquired data; 3) the high-altitude wind field is mapped to near-surface, and 4) the near-surface wind field is fed into the wildfire model periodically. A series of simulations are performed using an in-house decoupled physics-based reduced-order fire propagation model (FireProM-F) enhanced by wind field “measurements”. In this proof of concept, wind velocities are not measured but extracted from physics-based Large Eddy Simulations taken as ground truth. Unsurprisingly, higher measurement frequencies lead to more accurate and realistic predictions of the propagating fire front. An initial attempt is made to study the effect of wind measurement uncertainty on the model predictions by adding Gaussian noise. Preliminary results show that higher noise leads to the fire front displaying more irregular shapes and slower propagation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-634
Number of pages20
JournalApplied Mathematical Modelling
Early online date26 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


  • Wildland fire
  • Fire spread
  • Fire-induced wind
  • Fire–wind coupling
  • Wind downscaling
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles


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