SD Mines professor helps invent firefighting tool

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - State Fire Meteorologist Darren Clabo of the School of Mines & Technology is helping create a tool that reportedly will give firefighters a head start on combating wildfires.

The Fire Risk Estimation tool gives land managers and firefighting officials a more detailed look at fire potential across the Missouri River basin, according to a release from the SDSM&T.

The FiRE tool, expected to be ready by late summer or fall of this year, uses satellite and meteorological data to create a more detailed understanding of fire danger, giving firefighters a critical edge.

Fire managers say the “initial attack” phase during the first few hours of any of any wildfire is the most important time to gain control. If they know where the danger is increasing before a fire breaks out, they can position resources; allowing them to quickly respond to small fires before they erupt into major wildfires.

“We can narrow this onto a 10-kilometer grid scale,” says Clabo.

Previous tools only assessed fire danger on a wider scale, such as across national forest districts or across a county.

“If the western two thirds of Pennington County is wet because they’ve gotten a series of thunderstorms, but some of the eastern areas are dry, we will know where a fire is more likely to start and spread.” Clabo explained.

Clabo says the FiRE tool combines satellite data and meteorological data for an output not available in current fire danger assessments. The tool analyzes drought conditions, high resolution fuel conditions and precipitation conditions to produce a fire danger assessment map that land managers and firefighters can monitor daily.

“One of the current problems across the Great Plains is we don’t have very many weather stations. So, those estimated conditions can be inaccurate and we might not know where the most critical fire weather conditions exist,” says Clabo.

The FiRE tool is being developed with funding from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information and NASA DEVELOP with collaboration from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.