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General Overview / Write up

                                                     Wildfire FlameMapper.


             The Santa Monica Mountains are historically known to be a staging ground for deadly wildfires. With the growth of the wildland

urban interface, it is essential that we continue to strive to better manage these wildfires. A vast amount of research is available pertaining

to wildfires in the Santa Monica Mountains and the effects the fires have on the chaparral community, but there is as yet no

comprehensive and systematic way to evaluate, or compare these diverse research findings. Although various models have been

generated to track wildfires, it has proved difficult to effectively apply and utilize these existing models due to their complex user

interfaces, their limited interface compatibility, and their inability to interpret the data swiftly. This project, therefore, examines the best

approach for simplifying these models into one visual, interactive, and web-based tool that stakeholders and land managers can use to

obtain a general understanding of wildfire: the Wildfire Flame Mapper. Wildfire Flame Mapper (WFM) is a visual tool that uses both the

JavaScript object-oriented scripting language and the Google Earth API (application programming interface), providing a three-

dimensional platform that supports a variety of wildland fire-related data, from basic Geographic Information System (GIS) data-sets to

complex fire simulation models. WFM provides a user-friendly, interactive, and web-based repository of wildland fire history, fire

characteristics, and various fire models all integrated in one georectified location with the simple click of a mouse. The goal of the

project is to help mitigate damage to life and property by providing a prototype of what could be the future of managing wildland fires: a

technological, comprehensive and systematic visual tool for analyzing and monitoring wildland fires called Wildfire Flame Mapper.


             When it comes to widespread fire in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California, it is safe to say that fire and this unique chaparral community, go hand in hand. These fires have been noted for their deadly, unpredictable and costly excesses, which have devastated vast acres of native vegetation, destroyed property and have taken many lives. The Santa Monica Mountains are a staging ground for a variety of factors that promote deadly wildfires. With the growth of the wildland urban interface, more resources have been devoted to study these fires. There is a vast amount of research available regarding fire in the chaparral community. The research on fire in the chaparral stems from personal observations of firefighters, historic fire records, the development of vegetation indexes, the assembly of known weather patterns, to wildland fire simulation modeling programs like FlamMap and Farsite. However, it can be argued that there is not a comprehensive and systematic way to evaluate these diverse research findings.
            The objective of this project is to combine a comprehensive collection of historical records, personal observations, with the results of the most advanced wildland fire models presented in a web based mapping environment; in addition to provide a comprehensive overview of the wildland fire environment in the Santa Monica Mountains from the landscape level to the individual parcel.  This project, using the ArcFuels toolset, will develop a subset of the national LANDFIRE dataset of wildland fuel characteristics for the Santa Monica Mountain study area. Using ArcMap 9.3, these layers will be assembled and transferred to the FlamMap Fire simulation model for the development of the fire characteristics particular to the study area. After the development of the fire characteristics in FlamMap, the layers will be transferred to ArcMap for analysis and the development of the cartographic images.  Using the JavaScript object-oriented scripting language and the Google Earth API(application programming interface), the wildland fire image layers are rendered on the Google Earth virtual globe platform, providing a web based repository of wildland fire history and wildland fire characteristics.


            The LANDFIRE national dataset is supplied by the USGS seamless server for the use of wildland fire behaviorists, using the ArcFuels toolset. LANDFIRE provides the three landscape layers, (Elevation, Slope, and Aspect) and the five fuel characteristic layers (Fuel Model, Canopy Cover, Canopy Height, Crown Base Height, and Crown Bulk Density) (see Figure 1) necessary  for the operation of the FlamMap fire behavior program. FlamMap is a fire behavior mapping program that computes the fire potential characteristics for a given landscape using constant weather conditions. FlamMap incorporates both the Rothermel surface fire spread model, and Rothermel crown fire spread model in the development of the fire characteristics. While FlamMap optimally can generate up to 17 individual fire characteristic layers, in this application the authors choose to generate five primary fire layers: Flame Length, Rate of Spread, Fire Intensity and Major Fire Paths. After the individual fire characteristics have been generated the layers are transferred back to ArcMap as raster layers. These layers are then symbolized and exported as KML files for inclusion in the Wildfire Flame Mapper server dataset.
            The project was originally intended to be displayed on the ArcServer platform. After facing some unexpected complication and a realization of the limitations of posting multifaceted data for the public to use on an unfamiliar platform, the decision was made to try Google’s API’s. The Google Earth and Google Maps API are a free database platform that supports JavaScript, and KML programming.  Recent development and expansion of the functionalities of the API’s have been multi tiered. First on the developer side, by choosing the JavaScript programming language, this allowed the API to become more available to a wider audience. Second the user / author’s ability to display various georectified datasets on web based platforms increased the user interface, thus allowing the users to become more familiar and efficient with the application. Moreover, due to the high user demand the majority of the major problems associated with API’s have been addressed and/ or noted.  This programs, while functional, still has many problems and errors still not addressed. However, with the issues at hand, the work from this project suggest that these two API’s appear to be a viable platform to display this projects data.
            There have been various challenges that this project has faced. Not knowing the potential or limitations of theses relatively new API’s drastically diverted development time. For example after many manipulation of KML files derived from raster datasets, it was discovered that these layers could not be supported on the Google Maps API.  After extensive coding the Google Earth API platform did allow for expansion to display this type of data. Another difficult challenge was implementing various functions to appear on one page. For examples in Google Earth Desktop the program includes a sidebar like table of contents. In the API version there is no side bar, thus requiring the authors to create one. Creating a multi use sidebar that displays various datasets was quite challenging.  Since this kind of data is rarely compiled in one location, one can only imagine the diversity of the code required to display this range of data at one time. Once all the data was displayable, the next challenge was configuring the loading order. Unfortunately for the authors this project required the assignment of layering order priority.  It is essential, for example that the Major Fire Paths display over the fire history and then over the simulation models. If the data is not loaded in a particular order, then not all of the layers will be visible to the user.  While this is only some of the challenges faced, future development of the project will promote even more challenges to overcome. More challenges mean further development and refined work, which appears to be an apparent theme in this project.


Santa Monica Mountains have been noted for their, unpredictable, dangerous, and tremendously expensive and wildland fires. If the Santa Monica Mountains are a staging ground for deadly wildfires, then it is apparent that an attempt needs to be made somewhere to better manage these wildland fires.  Why not turn to technology for assistance? With the growth of the wildland urban interface, it is essential that the proper resources be developed to study these wildland fires. What is the point of having vast amount of data and research available if nothing can be done with it. This project aims to collaborate multifaceted research data, with the use of a internet based platform, to shed light on a comprehensive and systematic way of managing these wildland fires in the future.

Figure 1. FlamMap input layers

*Image Source: Rocky Mountain Research Station.Research Paper:RMRS-RP-4 Revised Author Mark A. Finney