Chapter 9: New Tools

Wildfire Management Tool (WMT)

Click here to run the Wildfire Management Tool (WMTweb): The link will open a new tab in your browser

WMTweb is being designed with direct input from several agency representatives, fire chiefs, training officers, fire behavior analysts and domain experts. The outreach is expected to go beyond the firefighting community and out into the general public. Fire prevention personnel intend for WMTweb to advise and educate homeowners who live in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and who are exposed to the risk of wildfires.



Project Overview

The issue at hand is how to convey spatio-temporal fire behavior information effectively and efficiently. Fire behavior is the manner in which a fire reacts to the influences of fuel, weather, and topography.

Fire Behavior Nomenclature


Figure 1. Basic Fire Behavior Nomenclature

Figure 1 depicts some of the named components of a wildfire. A wildfire is a large, destructive fire in the wildland that spreads quickly over woodland or brush. Note that not all wildland fires are “wildfires”. There are “prescribed fires” which are planned, controlled burns used to remove hazardous fuels or improve the habitat. And there are “backfires” set by firefighters to consume the fuel in the path of a wildfire.

The Problem: Conveying Fire Behavior


Figure 2. The Haul Chart

The Haul Chart, seen in figure 2, is the existing tool used today for depicting fire behavior information. The problem with this display is that it is point based for a single point in time, and for a single geographical location. It’s difficult to view the fire behavior in the context of several locations at one time. It’s also lacking flanking fire behavior. Many users consider the Haul Chart too complex for their needs; adding more information to the graphic would be detrimental.

The Idea and Proposed Solution

The WMTweb software project has two significant goals, the Wildfire Diamond and the Wildfire Profile. Both which are original ideas born of this project; each which strive to improve the effectiveness of communicating spatiotemporal fire behavior information to those in need.


Figure 3. High Level Requirements diagram

Fig. 3 depicts the Wildfire Diamond and Wildfire Profile requirements. WMTweb v1.0, developed for the NASA World Wind Europa Challenge 2015, satisfies the Wildfire Diamond goal. The Wildfire Profile will be manifest in a future release.

Wildfire Diamond Symbology

WMTweb introduces a proof-of-concept Wildfire Diamond symbol to the wildland firefighting community. The Wildfire Diamond conveys wildland fire behavior information at a point of interest via a color-coded diamond similar to the NFPA-704 “Fire Diamond”.


Figure 4. Wildfire Diamond symbol

The objective is to make an informative, but simplistic symbol for depicting fire behavior information. This symbol represents the potential fire behavior at the point at which it is positioned on the globe. The symbol in Fig. 4 is comprised of four quadrants, each one representing one of the four main parts of a wildfire: the head, left and right flanks, and the heal. Each quadrant is color coded to indicate the severity of that part of the fire. The colors are described in Table 1.

Intensity Flames Color Description
LOW 0-1’ Blue Fire will burn and will spread however it presents very little resistance to control and direct attack with firefighters is possible.
MODERATE 1’-3’ Green Fire spreads rapidly presenting moderate resistance to control but can be countered with direct attack by firefighters.
ACTIVE 3’-7’ Tan Fire spreads very rapidly presenting substantial resistance to control. Direct attack with firefighters must be supplemented with equipment and/or air support.
VERY ACTIVE 7’-15’ Magenta Fire spreads very rapidly presenting extreme resistance to control. Indirect attack may be effective. Safety of firefighters in the area becomes a concern.
EXTREME >15’ Red Fire spreads very rapidly presenting extreme resistance to control. Any form of attack will probably not be effective. Safety of firefighters in the area is of critical concern.

Table 1. Fire Behavior Adjectives and Color Codes

In WMTweb, this symbol reacts dynamically to the ever changing weather and solar conditions by changing the colors in its quadrants to reflect the given conditions. Multiple symbols can be arrayed on the globe such that the user can visualize the stability, or instability of the entire fireground.

The simplicity of the symbol belies its significance and complexity. Exposing the flanking and backing (heal) fire behavior predictions is a new concept. So much emphasis has traditionally been placed on the head of the fire, but it is at the flanks and heal where the firefighters are generally working. Thus being able to anticipate the changes in these areas is important for the safety of firefighters.

Fire Lookouts

Fire Lookouts Figure n.png

Figure 5. Fire Lookouts arrayed on the terrain

Fire Lookouts are spatio-temporal markers you drop on to the globe. A Fire Lookout downloads a point weather forecast for its location and computes the fire behavior from the weather, terrain, solar radiation and a fuel model. The Fire Lookout displays fire behavior data using the new Wildfire Diamond symbology, seen in figure 5.

Fire Lookouts are dynamic. Advancing the application time with the time slider allows you to view the expected fire behavior in the future. When you move a Fire Lookout it triggers a new computation the fire behavior and it updates the symbology accordingly. Fire Lookouts are designed to alert the user when a significant change is detected in the future fire behavior. This lookout mechanism takes place behind the scenes alerts the user via visual cues.

Weather Scouts

Weather SCouts figure n.png

Figure 6. Weather Scouts in proximity to Fire Lookouts

Weather Scouts are similar to Fire Lookouts in that they download the weather forecast for their locations. The Weather Scouts display the weather forecasts using standard weather station symbology. They react to changes in location and time and update their symbology accordingly. The scouts are designed to alert the user when a significant change is detected in the forecast.

Mobile Clients

The mobile layout is designed for fluid manipulation and examination of the WMT application, allowing any person with a smartphone and internet access to view a fire’s potential behavior. A frequently requested feature, having mobile access to WMT allows firefighters in the field or en route to look at current fire conditions and predicted fire conditions. Allowing them to coordinate their efforts more effectively and more safely.

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Figure 7. Menu Navigation

The user interface is designed to automatically adjust its layout the device’s screen size. The design follows a “mobile-first” philosophy.

Time Widget

The Time Widget is not just a clock. It displays temporal data relative to the position of the crosshairs on the globe.


Figure 8. Time Widget displaying application clock time, local solar time, and sunrise and sunset

  • The application’s date and time, are displayed in the body of the widget. These values are controlled by the time slider.
  • The sun icon that orbits the dial indicates the local solar hour angle. Solar noon is at the top of the dial, and midnight is at the bottom. When the sun icon is at the top of the dial, then the real sun is at its zenith. To see it in action, either move the time slider, or zoom out on the globe and move the crosshairs in an easterly or westerly direction. Note that the sun icon turns dark during nighttime hours.
  • The sunrise and sunset markers depict the solar hour angles for for sunrise and sunset and indicate the amount of sunlight received. They are relative to the application date/time and the geographic position. To see them in action, zoom out on the globe and then pan north and south to the poles, or rapidly advance the time slider.

Location Widget

The Location Widget is more than a simple compass. It displays spatial data centric to the position of the crosshairs.


Figure 9. Location Widget displaying coordinates, aspect, slope and solar azimuth.

  • The latitude, longitude and ground elevation are displayed for the point under the crosshairs.
  • The compass needle and compass rose rotate with your view of the globe and always point to true North.
  • The sky/ground background is an inclinometer that rotates to display the slope of the terrain under the crosshairs. To see it in action, zoom in on the globe to see some elevation and then move the crosshairs across the terrain.
  • The green diamond icon that orbits the compass indicates the aspect of the terrain under the crosshairs. Its position is relative to the compass points. To see it in action, zoom in on the globe to see a ridgeline and then move the crosshairs back and forth across the ridge.
  • The sun icon that orbits the compass indicates the solar azimuth angle. Its position is relative to compass points. To see it in action, either move the time slider, or zoom out on the globe and move the crosshairs in an easterly or westerly direction. When the sun icon and aspect icon are coincident then the maximum solar radiation is received by the terrain at that point. Note that the sun icon turns dark during nighttime hours.


Globe Navigation

Action Mouse Touch Keyboard
Pan Left click-drag Touch-drag Arrow Keys
Rotate Right click-drag left/right Tap Rotate Button R resets to nadir
Tilt Right click-drag up/down Tap Tilt Button N sets to north up
Zoom Mouse wheel or two-finger drag Pinch gesture + / – (plus/minus) keys

Setting and Resetting the Date/Time

  • The time slider is used to change the date and time. Its a very powerful control. The scale is logrithmic so large movements will advance or retard the time very quickly
  • A reset button resides above the Time Widget which resets the time to “now”.

Resetting the View

  • A reset button resides above the Location Widget which resets the view tilt to look down and view rotation to north up.

Markers, Scouts and Lookouts

  • Markers, Scouts and Lookouts are added to the globe by selecting the desired item and then clicking the globe where you want it placed.
  • Opening up the corresponding list for Markers, Scouts, or Lookouts provides you with the ability to “go to”, edit or remove the selected item.


Please use Chrome or Firefox. Internet Explorer is not supported; there is partial support for Safari.

Your browser must be compatible with WebGL to run WMTweb: the underlying NASA Web World Wind technology uses WebGL to render the globe. You can check your web browser’s compatibility at If Chrome doesn’t work on your device, try FireFox, and visa versa. Updating your browser to the latest version may be required.

Known issues:

  • Internet Explorer incompatibility with SVG files
  • Safari
    • WebGL disabled by default
    • Locale settings for date/time display

The Development Team

Team Emxsys

  • Theodore Walton, UI Developer
  • Shawn Patterson, Graphics Designer
  • Bruce Schubert, Mentor, Architect and Developer

Copyright © 2016 by Doug Campbell and Bruce Schubert.

4 thoughts on “Chapter 9: New Tools

  1. During the Thomas fire in Ventura County viewed from Ojai, CA. was a significant lesson for the use of WMT.
    The Wind forecast and the on scene wind speed and direction were very different. This situation caused BEHAVE calculations to be wrong. At that point it became important that one recognized the BEHAVE calculation is based on the forecast wind values. Determining what the fire would behave like depended on one’s ability to read the actual fire and make short term predictions regarding safe areas and unsafe areas.

  2. My comments on the significance of the Wildfire Management Tool.
    As a fire behavior analyst I have found that having the BEHAVE + model available to anyone without having to be trained to calculate the fire behavior using many inputs is a huge benefit. Now all one needs to do is to place the fire lookout on any part of the terrain to view the flame lengths of the head, flanks and heel. The direction of spread is also indicated. If one needs to see the weather forecast or the fuel model list, or the alignment of wind, slope and solar preheat it is behind the icon. Weather is furnished in another icon. Time can be advanced and the BEHAVE + calculations will update.
    Firefighters and planners this is a huge improvement.
    Please feel free to add to the applications of WMT.

  3. Another application for WMT, is planning a burnout on a wildfire.
    When a fuels fire tactic is to conduct a burnout, WMT can help determining the fire behavior that would result in firing out.
    The BEHAVE model coupled with on site evaluation of the test burn would be a valuable tool and aid in predicting the fire behavior.

  4. Applications for WMT.
    Prescribed burning planning such as modeling the required test fire and comparing the model to the fire generated.
    Modeling where the fire could escape and go beyond threshold of control.
    Modeling the perimeter to determine weakness and mitigation needs.
    Initial attack modeling to determine the potential of the fire and where the fire may make runs. Dispatchers could use WMT.
    Using WMT modeling for City fire hazard zones. Street to street and house to house use to determine hazard and risks.

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