Research

DHS Firefighter Safety Grant:  http://wpi-fprf.wix.com/gbffsafety#

NSF Wildfire Grant, WIFIRE: http://wifire.ucsd.edu/

Wildfire Research

Wildfires are devastating conflagrations that defy the imagination of nature’s fury. Researchers have struggled to describe wildfires for decades, yet such a complicated phenomenon requires continued study to understand the many physical aspects of fire and its impacts on people and the environment. We apply fundamental combustion physics to the problem of wildfires in an attempt to describe these fires piece by piece. The effect of discrete fuels, flammability of mixed fuels, flame spread on slopes and many more problems are of interest. Collaboration with wildfire modeling groups integrating sensor networks, fire weather and more provides a new avenue to spread and apply our work.

Current Projects:

  • WIFIRE: http://wifire.ucsd.edu
  • Flame Spread through Wildland Fuels with the USFS Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory
  • Ignition of Wildland Urban Interface Fuels (NIST)
  • Generation of Firebrands (NIST and Joint Fire Science Program)
  • A review of Pathways to Fire Spread in the Wildland Urban Interface (NFPA)

Flame Spread

Research on flame spread is essential to understanding the risks associated with materials in a wide range of geometries. Our research into flame spread developed from warehouse fire research, where flame spread over corrugated cardboard was investigated. This area has huge applications to the design of warehouses and warehouse protection systems. It was found that corrugated cardboard does not follow with classical assumptions for upward flame spread, and an explanation of lower rates of spread that were observed was offered. The peeling or delamination of corrugated cardboard as it burns influences the boundary layer, resulting in slower rates of upward flame spread. The results were published in Combustion and Flame: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.combustflame.2010.12.005

Current projects are devoted to investigating flame spread over new and interesting geometries and the influence of discrete fuels.

Current Projects:

Diffusion Flames

Modeling the realistic burning behavior of condensed-phase fuels has remained out of reach, in part because of an inability toUntitled resolve complex interactions at the interface between gas-phase flames and condensed-phase fuels.  This interaction is even more complex as scales increase, because realistic fires occur under fully turbulent conditions which have yet to be fully replicated or understood at the bench scale, where detailed measurements can be conducted. The current research explores the dynamic relationship between combustible condensed fuel surface and gas-phase flames in both laminar and turbulent boundary layers, representing the small scales in which materials are tested (where much of today’s theoretical knowledge is also isolated) to realistic large-scale turbulent flames present in almost all unwanted fires, hybrid rocket motors and other similar combustion phenomena.

Current Projects:

Material Flammability

While material flammability is a large subject, my most recent involvement has been through the classification of stored commodities.

Storage of commodities in large warehouses pose a unique hazard to occupants, firefighters, and surrounding communities due to the concentration of flammable, often toxic materials stored to heights of up to 16 meters (50 ft). A key aspect of the protection strategy for these large warehouses is a hazard ranking applied to each commodity stored in the facility – used to design the protection system, often fire sprinklers. Despite strong advances in the fire sciences, over the last three decades this area of fire protection has been overlooked. Protection strategies in these facilities are deficient. A long history of destruction has resulted from warehouse fires, including firefighter deaths and environmental catastrophe. These large structures present a unique firefighting situation; firefighters investigating fires enter a maze-like inferno where the seat of a fire may occur deep within a structure up high in the air where the power of their hoses is no longer ideal. Many deaths in table 1 occurred while firefighters were searching through this “maze” for the seat of the fire, which could have been prevented by initially designing the facility to suppress, contain, or extinguish a possible fire contents to a pre-determined level.

The objective of this research is to analyze material flammability with an emphasis on classifying storage commodities in large warehouses. The results of this study could be applied in quantitatively predicting the ignition hazard, burning rate, flame spread and minimum quantity of suppressant required to extinguish a fire of given size. The theoretical basis for the proposed idea will evolve from the classical theory of ignition, flame spread, and extinction in boundary layer flows. The problem is unique because of the variation of commodity material, packing material, and storage configuration which will be accounted for with a modified set of nondimensional numbers to represent the physics of the problem. The mathematical analysis and experimental validation of the theory proposed is the primary goal of the study.

Sustainability

With today’s awareness of human’s impact on the environment, it is necessary for all scientists and engineers to remember their mission to protect humanity and future resources, which include our planet. While traditional sustainability might be though of with subjects such as solar panels (shown above because I was apart of a major renewable energy funding effort in San Diego), Fire Protection Engineering can also make their impact on sustainability. Recent studies have highlighted the impact of sprinklers and their impact reducing the lifetime emissions of common buildings. Fire Protection Engineers must also be mindful of new safety challenges encountered by sustainable building practices. Prime examples include  natural ventilation that interferes with smoke control, recycled building materials lacking flammability rankings and battery storage hazards in renewable power facilities.

Combustion

Combustion is the foundation upon which we study fires. Fundamental research including fluid physics, chemical kinetics, asymptotic analysis and other traditional combustion techniques are desperately needed in the field of Fire Protection Engineering. With a strong background in combustion fundamentals, these techniques can be applied to problems in all research areas. While no project specifically fits exclusively under the confines of “combustion”, all projects are approached using the strong basis of knowledge developed in combustion science.

Research Sponsors

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