SDSU tracking Sand Fire to help keep firefighters safe

SAN DIEGO – Fire crews are working to save more homes as they continue to battle the Sand Fire in Santa Clairta, just north of Los Angeles.

The wildfire has already burned more than 33,000 acres.

The Sand Fire has already destroyed 18 structures and continues to threaten thousands more. It’s a wild fire, researchers at the Viz Center at San Diego State University are keeping a close eye on.

“This sand fire is a very rapidly spreading fire, typically we see maybe 5 or 10,000 acres a day on a fast fire but this one is moving exceptionally fast,” said Stephen Guerin, CEO of SimTable.

Researchers are able to create a three dimensional geographical overlay of an area using software that projects onto what is basically a big sandbox.  The program also collects data such as time of day, wind speed and fuel types to predict how the fire is likely to spread.

sandbox1111“This is a way to train them on the basic dynamics of a fire, fire wants to run up hill, downwind, what are the effects of fuels, and fuel moisture and wind patterns,” he said.

The software can even use pictures uploaded to social media to help track the fire’s movement.

“When something bad happens, people’s reactions now are almost always to pull out their phones,” said Dr. Eric Frost, director of the Viz Center.

But its not just pictures that hold valuable information used to fight the fire.  Video plays an important role in showing first responders how the fire is developing.

“If you can actually look at what is the smoke doing, where exactly is the smoke, what is the shape and the color of the smoke. For a firefighter those are critical pieces of information that they can say ‘send people there or don’t go there, that is way too dangerous,” he said.

sandbox3333The Viz Center and the New Mexico-based company, SimTable are working on an app version that firefighters could just pull up on their phone to get current information from central control.

“The Viz Center is really focused around the idea of how you bring critical information together in near real time to actually help make a decision and in many times that is what you need real near time,” he said.

There are more than 340 fire engines with 42 crews and 21 helicopters battling the sand fire.

Mandatory evacuations remain in effect for 10,000 homes.

At last check, it was 10-percent contained.

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