Playing with fire

We follow scientists developing new techniques to predict wildfire behaviour and help save the lives of firefighters.

It is only in recent years that scientists have had the tools to better understand how wildfires actually behave, and in turn, how firefighters can carry out their jobs more safely.

TechKnow meets the scientists and wildfire researchers zig-zagging the US to chase wildfires as they break out in order to study how they move.

One of these wildfire chasers is Dan Jimenez of the Rocky Mountain Research Centre. We meet him on a trip to gather field data to improve “safety zones” for firefighters.

These zones are areas where firefighters can “safely position themselves and be out of harm’s way,” explains Jimenez. The zones can mean the difference between life and death.

The basic principle behind establishing a safety zone is finding the highest fire height and multiplying that by four to find the minimum distance that a firefighter needs to be positioned from the blaze.

However, many other environmental factors like weather conditions also come into play. We see how researchers collect data, for instance by using fire-proof boxes placed in a fire’s path, and speak to fire analysts and experts to learn what they have discovered by chasing fires.

Also in this episode of TechKnow: Ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau speaks to us via Skype from the Aquarius, the only undersea laboratory in the world, which is located 60 feet below the water’s surface in the Florida Keys. Cousteau, the grandson of the legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, has spent over a month living in the underwater laboratory with a small crew.