Models of forest fire behavior have long helped emergency managers prepare for the annual wildfire
season in western US states. But the complexity of the wildland-urban transition zone (where wildfires
cross into human-occupied areas) that has so far defied attempts modelling may soon be tamed by a
technique used to track the spread of diseases.

A new paper discusses a model to quantify the vulnerability of urban areas in the transition zone to the spread of fires. Researchers and disaster-mitigation experts from the Colorado State University believe that their quantitative models could “add to the strategic toolbox that protects lives and livelihoods from destructive fires.”

TechExplore’s report serves as summary:

“The model the researchers are calling AGNI-NAR—Asynchronous Graph Nexus Infrastructure for
Network Assessment of Wildland-Urban Interface Risk—was developed by Hussam Mahmoud, associate
professor in the Department of Civil and Environment Engineering, and Akshat Chulahwat, a graduate
student in civil engineering. Their work is published in the open-access journal Scientific Reports.

Our ultimate motivation is to highlight new strategies to mitigate potential risk for wildland-urban
interface fires, which has historically been a one-size-fits-all approach," Mahmoud said. "Our model
clearly shows us that this is absolutely not sufficient.

“To develop the model, they relied on tried-and-true methods based in graph theory, which has been
used to model complex networks such as transportation zones or disease transmission. The researchers
reasoned that they could apply similar principles to the way a fire behaves; much like a pathogen
jumping from host to host and spreading disease, a fire also jumps from one structure to another,
multiplying as it propagates.”