November 1, 2007 Issue

Physics To Go 36 - California wildfires

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Physics in Your World

The Physics of Firefighting image
image credit: U.S. Navy; image source

The Physics of Firefighting

Do firefighters like these (view hi-res image) need to know physics? Here are some related questions:  

  • How does water put out a fire?
  • How much pressure should there be in the hose?
  • And why cut a hole in a house on fire?
To find out how physics provides the answers, see Robert Egler's article "The Physics of Firefighting," on page 599 of the December 1990 issue of "The Physics Teacher", a publication of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

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Physics at Home

Fire Wars

Explore fire and firefighting at the NOVA website Fire Wars. You can try a computer model of how wind makes fire spread, you can learn how plants have adapted to wildfires, and much more. You can even find out how the NOVA crew got close-up shots of dangerous wildfires.


From Physics Research

NASA Images of California Wildfires image
image credit: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response; image source

NASA Images of California Wildfires

This NASA image (hi-res version) shows the smoke from the California wildfires on October 7, 2007. To learn more, visit NASA Images of California Wildfires. The fires result from the combination of extreme drought and the seasonal Santa Ana winds. See NASA's Earth Observatory for images of similar fires four years earlier.

Worth a Look

This Model Can Take the Heat

Visit This Model Can Take the Heat to find out how the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories are joining forces to develop a physics-based model of wildfire development.  The model accounts for weather patterns, terrain, and local vegetation.

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