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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Field trip to the ongoing smouldering peat fire in Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park, Spain

There is an ongoing peat fire in the National Park of Las Tablas de Daimiel, Spain.

Photo taken on November 25, 2009 in the area adjacent to the National Park, near Molimocho.

The peat in the Park is very dry at the moment (water content bellow 10 to 20% dry weight) after a prolonged drought and excessive irrigation of near fields that has lasted several years now. Under these dry conditions, peat smoulders readily (smouldering fires are known to spread at water content bellow 55% dry weight). Visually, only weak plumes of smoke can be appreciated in holes distributed over a surface area of 5 ha inside the Park and of 40 ha outside the Park. The real magnitude of the fire lies bellow the surface and no one knows the size of it.

This fire was detected first inside in Park in September 2009. But smoking signs of smouldering activity were detected earlier than that just outside the Park limits. The fire outside was caused by a flaming wildland fire extinguished in August but that left the peat smouldering. The cause of he fire inside the Park is currently unknown and a handful of hypothesis have been put forward (subsurface propagation from the outside fire, self-ignition phenomena, ignition from previous flaming fires, and endemic fire in the ecosystem).

Snapshot showing the two possible regimes of biomass burning: flaming of the grass and smouldering of the peat under it. For scale reference, the flame is about 10 mm tall. Figure from CATENA 2008

On the 25th of November 2009 I visited Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park with the Director of the Park Mr Carlos Ruiz, Dr Luis Moreno from IGME and the Fire Service Chief Officer in Castilla la Mancha.

The ongoing suppression, prevention and compartmentation tasks are innovative and effective. Note that peat fires are extremely difficult to tackle and the nightmare of fire-fighters. Indeed, little more can be done until the final solution of the global flooding (not partial) of the Park arrives in January 2010 (as agreed by national authorities).

Photo taken inside the National Park (Nov 25, 2009), showing heavy machinery stirring and compacting the soil down to a depth of 3 or 4 m.

I was specially impressed by the extent of the peat fire in the area adjacent to the Park and the novel large-scale prevention work compacting of the soil and local flooding from the surface. About 30 ha has been treated like this, stirring and compacting the soil down to a depth of 3 or 4 m with heavy equipment to prevent the spread of the fire. This prevention technique aims at cooling down possible hot spots and disrupting the dense network of natural pipes feeding oxygen to the deeper fire seats and carrying the smoke from the subsurface to the atmosphere. Nothing similar has been done before in other regions hit by smouldering fires (Borneo, British Isles, Alaska, Canada, Siberia, Iran ....)

Photo taken inside the National Park (November 25, 2009), showing the several hectares of peatlands that had been treated by compaction and stirring of the soil layers.

The day after, the 26th, I gave a seminar on Smouldering Fires at the ICAI School of Engineering, Madrid (the slides are accessible here).

Photo taken on November 25, 2009 in the area adjacent to the National Park, near Molimocho.

My comments on peat fires and visit to the Park was covered by Spanish media (for English, try funny translations here):

NOTE: Text and some photos are based on a prevoius post in my personal blog.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

MSc Thesis is featured on the cover of Fire Risk Managament

The cover article of the last issue of Fire Risk Management is based on the thesis of our MSc student Anna M Jonsdottir ( It is a survey of 29 buildings in the University of Edinburgh quantifying how much of old and modern buildings is outside the range of applicability of the Eurocode for structures and fire.

This is the first time anyone explicitly tells how narrow is the Eurocode's design range for modern architecture.

The article is available in open access in ERA.

A survey of the University of Edinburgh campus underlines the narrow design fire specifications of the Eurocodes for many buildings. The limits set out in the Eurocodes are height less than 4 m, floor plan under 500 m2, amount of glass and thermal inertia not too high or too low, and no vertical openings. In the King’s Buildings, built over a long period of time with many of them from the early 20th century, 66% of the total volume is inside the limitations of the Eurocode. But in the Informatics Forum (a 2008 brand new modern building with lots of open spaces and glass facades), only 8% of the total volume is inside the limitations. One could say that modern building trends are once more moving out of the limits of our current understanding in fire dynamics.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Distinguished Paper Award from the Combustion Institute

The 2008 Distinguished Paper Award on Fire Research at the 32nd International Symposium on Combustion was given to the paper "Carbon Emissions from Smouldering Peat in Shallow and Strong Fronts" by Guillermo Rein, Simon Cohen and Albert Simeoni.

This prestigious award is given by the Combustion Institute to the paper in the Fire Research colloquia which is "judged to be most distinguished in quality, achievement and significance".

Figure: Depth vs. time sketch of a downward smouldering
front showing the evolution of the front structure.

The paper reports on a series of laboratory experiments measuring carbon emissions from smouldering fires of boreal peat. It provides a novel framework to study smouldering dynamics by varying the controlling mechanisms and providing burning conditions that otherwise cannot be obtained in the laboratory. The paper is available in open access in ERA.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

HEC technology innovation award for FireGrid

Edinburgh students Sung-Han Koo & Sungwook Kang got the third prize HEC technology innovation award for their paper "Real-time fire prediction using sensors" on FireGrid.

Photo: Award reception of the 3rd Hyundai Engineering & Hankyung Technical awards. (From left to right) Co-chair of Hyundai Engineering, Sung-Wook Kang (MSc student UoE) and Bon-Ju Koo (father of Sung Han Koo, PhD student UoE).

The HEC is an award to post-graduate students who propose "technical renovation, new paradigms, new enterprise", conferred by Hyundai Engineering Co. Ltd. and Hankyung Economy (a media company); this was the third annual award.

Students Sung-Han Koo (BRE Trust/FireGrid PhD student) and Sungwook Kang (SAFE MSc student) submitted a technical paper related to the FireGrid project and were selected as one of the 14 finalists from about 70 initial entries. They then presented the work in person in Korea on 15 October and were later announced as one of the 7 final prize-winners, being awarded the joint "third prize" (3 million KRW, c. £1500).

The work was supervised Dr Stephen Welch.