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Smokeview: A Visualization Tool for Understanding Fire Dynamics



Glenn P. Forney


The purpose of fire modeling is to gain a better insight into fire dynamics and how it impacts fire safety -- not to generate large amounts of data. Gaining this insight requires visualization tools that display what the numbers generated by the model represent. This article highlights some of the features that the visualization tool, Smokeview, uses to display fire effects. Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing into the1990s, NIST researchers Howard Baum and Ron Rehm developed the basic flow solver that evolved into the Fire Dynamics Simulator, which was publicly released in 2000. Their solution technique, known as "large eddy simulation," or LES, captures very complicated fire plume dynamics. Early attempts to visualize the calculation results consisted of nothing more than little particles swirling about in a box. This was useful to the model developers but hardly to anyone else. It just did not look like a fire. Smokeview was written to address this problem. The first version was released along with FDS in early 2000. Along with particle-tracking as performed before, it visualized fire flow data by coloring and animating fire/smoke flow, making it much easier to interpret FDS simulation results. Immediately after September 11, 2001, work began on both FDS and Smokeview to enable them to model and visualize much larger problems. As a result, fire scenarios with several million grid cells can now be modeled and visualized using a cluster of computers. The next big step in Smokeview's development was the implementation of an algorithm for visualizing smoke realistically. The line between FDS, which performs smoke flow computations, and Smokeview, which performs smoke flow visualization, became blurred as Smokeview now performs physics-based computations (Beer's law) in order to visualize the smoke. The present algorithm for visualizing smoke only considers the effects of absorption - how much an object is obscured by smoke.
Fire Protection Engineering Journal
No. 37


fire models, fire dynamics, fire safety, simulation, visualization, temperature, vapor phases, temperature contours, ignition, smoke


Forney, G. (2008), Smokeview: A Visualization Tool for Understanding Fire Dynamics, Fire Protection Engineering Journal, [online], (Accessed June 18, 2024)


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Created December 1, 2008, Updated February 19, 2017