New Research Better Predicts How Things Burn

house on fire

A newly released report details research focused on measuring key fire-related properties to better understand not only the properties of the material, but also the difficulty and cost in measuring those properties. This research effectively created a more accurate methodology for predicting how things burn to aid in arson investigations.

In the report, “Determination of Material Property Input Data for Fire Modeling,” researcher Brian Lattimer noted that the results, “will not only provide a more standardized approach for material property determination for forensic applications, but also for the general fire protection engineering community.” Lattimer, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, and his research team, had five objectives:

  1. Measure all the fire-related properties for several different materials, including a plastic polymer (Polymethyl methacrylate), medium density fiberboard, white pine, cardboard, strand board, and glass fiber reinforced vinyl.
  2. Identify the properties which most strongly affect simulation results by performing sensitivity analyses on three different pyrolysis models.
  3. Formulate tests to quantify model properties through optimization. (Optimization is a numerical method to determine the maximum or minimum value of an equation and is constrained by the need to arrive at a realistic solution.)
  4. Design benchmark tests to determine the predictive capabilities of the models.
  5. Conduct pyrolysis model benchmarking using the new methodology.

A copy of the report can be viewed at