Water and Fire: hydrological forecasts for wildland fire management

Yuki Fujita PhD, Prof. Flip Witte PhD MSc

  • Start date
    01 Dec 2015
  • End date
    01 Jul 2018
  • Principal
    TKI Watertechnologie
  • collaborating partners
    IFV, Geodan, Efectis, Vitens, Waterschap Vallei en Veluwe

The risk of the spread of wildland fires is closely related to water management. Specifically, the flammability of the vegetation is partly a function of the availability of water. The drier the soil, the drier the plant, the faster the fire spreads, and the greater the chance of an unmanageable fire. Climate change means that the frequency and intensity of dry periods will increase. A greater probability of wildland fires is one of the consequences. The timely signalling of the risk of fire can save people’s lives and prevent damage to nature, buildings, the drinking water supply and infrastructure.


The fire department makes use of a system – the so-called ‘wildland fire spread model’ (Dutch abbreviation: NBVM) – to produce real-time predictions on the speed with which a fire in progress spreads. This system can be significantly improved thanks to recent scientific insights into the evapotranspiration behaviour of natural vegetations. The current state of knowledge makes it possible to forecast the availability of water in fire-risk locations and thus estimate the vegetation dryness level. By feeding the NBVM with this hydrological information, the system’s reliability can be strengthened. An improved NBVM would bring greater refinement to the fire-fighters’ operational perspective, allowing them to act more effectively during wildland fires. Furthermore, the module for the simulation of the level of dryness can be used to index the dryness of a particular area, and thus the degree of fire risk it represents.


The simulation of the dryness level of the vegetation is no easy matter. It requires hydrological, ecological and meteorological knowledge and a lot of data. Apart from the physical complexity, the technical connection of different source files within reasonable time also presents a challenge. The forecasts need to be available in seconds, so that the fire-fighters can act promptly.


The objective of this project is to improve the NBVM through the use of hydrological information. The Veluwe is the study’s pilot area. The project’s anticipated results are:

  • A validated program for the simulation of the vegetation dryness levels.
  • A demo for the connection of hydrological simulations to the NBVM for the Veluwe.
  • A system to signal fire-risk situations.

The project began in December 2015. The initial steps for the use of hydrological information in the NBVM have been taken. The system’s technical set-up is worked on in coordination with the Dutch Institute for Physical Safety (IFV), Geodan and Efectis. The Waterboard Vallei and Veluwe, Vitens and the Province of Gelderland act as a sounding board to assess the hydrological simulations. As the land and water managers, they play an important role in wildland fire management. By sharing knowledge with the fire department, land managers can take fire risk into consideration when dealing with spatial planning issues.