Man who lost childhood home to wildfire helps develop new fire forecasting system

POSTED: Sunday, August 19, 2012 - 12:00pm

UPDATED: Sunday, August 19, 2012 - 12:04pm

When the Topanga wildfire ripped through Malibu, California in 1993, one of the hundreds of homes burned belonged to the family of then 8-year-old Shea Broussard.

"Our house was gone," said Broussard. "My dad started crying. I didn't know what to do because I never saw him cry before. My first reaction was I got to do something."

Broussard worked as an LA County Fire Department explorer for seven years, and eventually became a computer mapper contracted with the U.S. Navy.

When he met fellow Malibu resident Tony Shafer, a retired LA firefighter, the pair joined forces to develop a computer mapping system to help predict wildfire behavior.

The internet program, called Flame Mapper, uses data from a hundred years of fire history combined with weather conditions to determine which way fire will spread, and how quickly.

"It basically takes in all the weather conditions and vegetation and humidity and wind speed and direction and gives us a good idea where the fire is going," Broussard said.

The system is still being developed, but an early version is already online.

The developers say the historical data on Flame Mapper shows the paths fires have taken in the past.

That information can be used to develop evacuation plans and determine where vegetation needs to be cut to prevent fires from spreading.

"Yes, there are things we can do," said Flame Mapper developer Tony Shafer. "The citizen doesn't have to just stand down at the end of the pipe and wait for the water for flow."

  

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