Forest fires, a scientific puzzle

ReportageWhile the evolution of the climate favors conflagrations, science works to better understand, prevent and fight disasters. In Corsica, a laboratory is playing with fire. Reportage.

The fire broke out suddenly near Corte. In a few seconds, he climbed the grassy slope and tackled a hedge of cistus. A puff of burning air and an impressive sound blast accompanied the burning of the bush, which had become fiery, and the flames licked the neighboring house. For a few tens of seconds, the walls and the roof partially disappeared in the smoke. Then the noise faded, the fire went out, for lack of fuel. “Two hours of preparation for one minute of experience, it’s beautiful science”slipped a research engineer to her colleague.

Because this Thursday, June 2, the fire which blackened the shutters and smoked the small house is only the twenty-fifth experiment carried out by scientists from the University of Corsica on the new jewel inaugurated at the beginning of spring. A veritable open-air laboratory, capable of reproducing, monitoring and analyzing the attack of a fire on a residential building. Here, any resemblance to reality is neither fortuitous nor accidental. Admittedly, the carpet of dry grass is made of wood crimp. The cistus were meticulously installed in metal cages in order to standardize their weight and size. As for the house, it is full of sensors: fluxmeters to measure thermal power, thermocouples for temperature, anemometers for wind and a whole host of analyzers capable of determining the gaseous composition both outside and inside. interior of the house. But it’s like in real lifeinsists Virginie Tihay-Felicelli, lecturer at the University of Corsica, responsible for the research program associated with this installation. What we are trying to do is to study with all the necessary rigor, in real conditions, the behavior of a fire that reaches a home, and to validate by science a regulation hitherto established on the sole statements of experts. »

An experiment to reproduce, monitor and analyze the attack of a fire on a residential building, June 3, 2022 in Corte.

Putting science at the service of preventing and fighting forest fires. Understand the rules of these awesome events. Improve their detection, predict their behavior, anticipate their route according to the nature of the plants, their condition, the weather, the topography. Consider risk factors, anticipate and prevent impacts. So many dizzying challenges at a time when climate change, rising temperatures and increasing periods of drought are causing fires across the world on a scale and number hitherto unknown.

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