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Ablaze for Forest Fire Research

As bush fires rage in Australia, researchers in Germany are looking for ways to help prevent forest fires. Last summer, they set fire to a forest in Germany. They wanted to observe how forest fires develop and spread.


Bush fires rage over the Yamba lighthouse on the coast 350 miles north of Sydney, Australia.

Thousands of firefighters in New South Wales, Australia, are battling more than 100 fires.

Many of them are burning out of control, destroying homes and natural eco-systems.

Geologists are worried: they say such forest fires will occur more often in the future as global warming increases.

As the problem gets more pressing, scientists at the Universities of Freiburg and Cottbus in Germany put all their energy into forest fire research.

Last summer, they conducted experiments, in which they set fire to sections of a forest. Their aim was to find out how a forest fires spread.

Brandenburg experiment

The researchers conducted their experiments in the German state of Brandenburg.

The forests in Brandenburg are dominated by pine trees, which burn easily. More than 1000 forest fires are reported in Brandenburg every year. That's one third of all the forest fires in Germany.

The scientists chose a forest north of Cottbus for their experiment. Two hectares (six acres) of pine forest were due to go up in smoke.

But bad weather conditions probably made this forest fire the first one in history to be postponed a few times.

Ablaze for scientific research

At the end of August, the summer rains finally let up and the forest was dry enough to conduct the experiment.

Professor Johann Georg Goldammer of the Fire Ecology Research Group at Freiburg University lit the match. His team of researchers and firefighters stood by and watched as hundreds of pine trees started to burn.

They closely monitored how high the temperatures got on the ground, below the earth and on the trees.

The scientists also filmed how the fire developed - how big the flames got and how the wind influenced the direction the fire took.

Since the researchers were able to observe the fires from the very first moment until the end, they gained valuable data in this experiment.

It helps them generate models to predict how forest fires develop. Their findings will also help firefighters fight blazes.

And they will be beneficial to forest rangers, because they point out how the danger of forest fires can be minimized by effective forest management.

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