Using cellular automata to simulate wildfire propagation and to assist in fire management
Cellular automata have been successfully applied to simulate the propagation of wildfires with the aim of assisting fire managers in defining fire suppression tactics and in planning fire risk management policies. We present a cellular automaton designed to simulate a severe wildfire episode that took place in Algarve (southern Portugal) in July 2012. During the episode almost 25 000 ha burned and there was an explosive stage between 25 and 33 h after the onset. Results obtained show that the explosive stage is adequately modeled when introducing a wind propagation rule in which fire is allowed to spread to nonadjacent cells depending on wind speed. When this rule is introduced, deviations in modeled time of burning (from estimated time based on hot spots detected from satellite) have a root-mean-square difference of 7.1 for a simulation period of 46 h (i.e., less than 20 %). The simulated pattern of probabilities of burning as estimated from an ensemble of 100 simulations shows a marked decrease out of the limits of the observed scar, indicating that the model represents an added value to help decide locations of where to allocate resources for fire fighting.