Taming Fire

The Forest Fire Research Laboratory, situated close to the Lousã Airfield and to the National School of Firefighters, aims to study fire behavior, and pass the knowledge to the operational teams, in order to reduce the consequences of forest fires.

This laboratory is one of the infrastructures of the Association for the Development of Industrial Aerodynamics, a non-profit organization linked to the Department of Mechanical Engineer, of the University of Coimbra. This investigation project started in 1987 in the University of Coimbra, driven by a forest fire that had occurred two years earlier, in Viseu, which made people aware of the importance of studying the evolution and dynamics of fire, in addition to making an intensive research on the characteristics of flora and their susceptibility to burn. Bearing this in mind, the Forest Fire Research Laboratory was created in 1997, and over the years it has undergone several improvements, being the expansion of 2014 the biggest and most recent one.

This investigation involves specialists of several areas of science like mechanic engineering, environmental engineering and geography. All of them  work within a framework to understand fire demeanor and ensure safety of people involved in forest fires, based on all known accidents that happened in Portugal, so to improve fire shelters and running tests on firefighter’s equipment and their vehicles. Therefore, they do lab and field experiments, being able, not only to do specific tests in a controlled environment, but also to run them in a larger scale, in similar conditions to the ones experienced in wild fires. In the laboratory, they recreate different scenarios that occur in real situations, using specific equipments such as combustibility tables and wind tunnels. Being aware that in extreme situations fire can originate fire tornados that can cause a mass destruction, in this research laboratory it is possible to study its formation and evolution. Moreover, the basis of the fire studies is the fuel moisture content that is an important parameter to predict the fire behavior.

Test with combustibility tables

Test with combustibility tables

The fuel used can consist of natural materials, that can be easily obtained, them being straws and pine litter, evenly spread in order to perform and obtain scientific valid tests.

These are monitored through the use of video making, photography and infrared images. This way, they are able to study more intensively several parameters, such as: wind velocities, temperatures and fire spread rate.

Having acquired a considerable sum of knowledge and being the pioneers in this research area, the Forest Fire Research Laboratory aims to share and disseminate information with national and foreign entities so to avoid future incidents, involving forest fires, thus ensuring the safety of firefighters.