Fighting Fire With...Computer Models

Surprisingly little is known about the dynamics of fire. Scientists at the insurance industry's Factory Mutual Research Corp. in Norwood, Mass., are tackling the mystery of how fire climbs fiber-coated walls and other surfaces--in the hope of creating a computerized model that unlocks such deadly secrets.

Taking precise calculations of heat, burn rates, gas release, and other traits, researchers feed the results into computer models that simulate fire's spread up walls and across rooms, says Ronald L. Alpert, manager of FMRC's fire and explosion research. The work is still in its infancy, but Alpert says large-scale models might one day predict how fire behaves in entire office buildings or warehouses.

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