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UMD and Underwriters Laboratories to Lead Worldwide Partnership to Improve Understanding of Wildfires and Fire Modeling

Underwriters Laboratories Commits $1M for Collaborative Research with International Fire Safety Consortium

image ofAP 21287862230692 1920x1080 1 An air tanker drops retardant on the Alisal Fire on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Goleta, Calif. A wildfire raging through Southern California coastal mountains threatened ranches and rural homes and kept a major highway shut down Wednesday as the fire-scarred state faced a new round of dry winds that raise risk of flames. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people die in fires that consume up to 2% of the combined income of every country in the world. With that toll expected to continue to increase, researchers from the University of Maryland will co-lead two new global initiatives designed to create new knowledge and understanding of wildfires and fire modeling.

Supported by $1M in funding from Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the projects will involve scientists from across the International Fire Safety Consortium (IFSC) and UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute.

The IFSC will coordinate efforts between leading institutions in fire safety education and research in order to respond to the growing challenge, said Arnaud Trouvé, professor of fire protection engineering at UMD and principal investigator (PI) of one of the research initiatives.

"Fire problems are growing in complexity and are evolving faster than the pace at which we are producing new knowledge and technical expertise,” Trouvé said. “We very much welcome this new partnership with UL that will allow us to reach a critical mass on two fire problems with global impact."

The project led by Trouvé will improve models of compartment fires—those in a room within a building. The project will lead to significant advances in understanding complex coupled phenomena, including flow fields, combustion, and heat transfer in such fires. It will also evaluate the performance of current fire modeling tools in the simulation of compartment fires with a particular focus on the Fire Dynamics Simulator developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The second initiative, led by PI Stanislav Stoliarov, a UMD professor of fire protection engineering, aims to improve understanding of the ignition of wildfire fuels by firebrands—airborne burning particles that can ignite spot fires up to several kilometers from their origination.

The research team will explore the ignition of different building materials by installing them inside a wind tunnel along with piles of smoldering wood to simulate firebrands; researchers will then measure the heat release rates, ember and building material temperatures and heat flux distributions. These processes and findings will be incorporated into new computational models to help improve the resilience of structures in wildland fires and lead to new standard test methods.

Other IFSC partners include the University of Melbourne, Lund University, University of Queensland, and University of Edinburgh—the five founding partner universities and members of the Universitas 21 Global Network—as well as Ghent University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Underwriters Laboratories established a relationship with the IFSC in October 2020, becoming the consortium’s first nonprofit partner to add its support in advancing scientific research, knowledge exchange, and global collaboration to address unresolved fire safety problems worldwide.

“Our collaborative work with researchers in the consortium gives us access to worldwide expertise that is complementary to that of FSRI,” said vice president and executive director of UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), Steve Kerber. “We are excited to advance knowledge through these two collaborative research initiatives that will improve understanding of how best to address global wildfires and improve fire modeling.”


Fire Protection Engineering

Colleges and Schools:

A. James Clark School of Engineering

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