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Neighborhood-Scale Fire Spread



Ronald G. Rehm, D. D. Evans, William E. Mell, Simo A. Hostikka, Kevin B. McGrattan, Glenn P. Forney, Charles E. Bouldin, Elisa S. Baker


This paper describes development of a physics-based mathematical and computational model to predict fire spread among structures and natural fuels (trees, shrubs and ground litter). This tool will be used to understand how fires spread in a community where both structures and natural fuels coexist, to help train fire fighters and to quantify the benefits of mitigation actions. No such model currently exists. There is an increasing awareness among fire fighters, community action groups and community planners of the need for such a model. This neighborhood-scale model can use detailed data on the topography, local meteorology, building layouts and elevations, three-dimensional distributions of natural fuels, and the material properties of both the natural fuels and the structures. Nearly 10% of the land and over one-third of the homes in the U.S. today belong to the Wildland/Urban interface (WUI), and these fractions are increasing rapidly. Fires in the WUI setting have also been increasing rapidly, becoming a national (as well as an international) problem. Models of the WUI fires must include the long-duration, high-intensity burning characteristics of structures as well as the burning characteristics of vegetation. Over the past 25 years, the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been developing a physics-based mathematical and computational model, known as the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS), to predict fire spread in a structure. This model is available free over the Web (, is well regarded and is widely used by fire protection engineers around the world. BFRL has recently extended the model to include fire spread from structure to structure and is now generalizing FDS to include prediction of fire spread in both continuous and discrete natural fuels.
Proceedings Title
Fire and Forest Meteorology, 5th Symposium. Joint With 2nd International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress
Conference Dates
November 16-20, 2003
Conference Location
Orlando, FL


fire spread, mathematical models, structures, fuels, simulation, fire models


Rehm, R. , Evans, D. , Mell, W. , Hostikka, S. , McGrattan, K. , Forney, G. , Bouldin, C. and Baker, E. (2003), Neighborhood-Scale Fire Spread, Fire and Forest Meteorology, 5th Symposium. Joint With 2nd International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress, Orlando, FL, [online], (Accessed April 16, 2024)
Created November 16, 2003, Updated February 19, 2017