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Fire Dynamics Simulator: Technical Reference Guide.

pdf icon Fire Dynamics Simulator: Technical Reference Guide. (800 K)
McGrattan, K. B.; Baum, H. R.; Rehm, R. G.; Hamins, A.; Forney, G. P.

NISTIR 6467; 40 p. January 2000.

Available from:

National Technical Information Service (NTIS), Technology Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, Springfield, VA 22161.
Telephone: 1-800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000;
Fax: 703-605-6900.
Order number: PB2000-104811


fire models; computational fluid dynamics; sprinkler activation; fire plumes; flame spread; simulation; ignition


The idea that the dynamics of a fire might be studied numerically dates back to the beginning of the computer age. Indeed, the fundamental conservation equations governing fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and combustion were first written down over a century ago. Despite this, practical mathematical models of fire (as distinct from controlled combustion) are relatively recent due to the inherent complexity of the problem. Indeed, in his brief history of the early days of fire research, Hoyt Hottel noted "A case can be made for fire being, next to the life processes, the most complex of phenomena to understand". The difficulties revolve about three issues: First, there are an enormous number of possible fire scenarios to consider due to their accidental nature. Second, the physical insight and computing power necessary to perform all the necessary calculations for most fire scenarios are limited. Any fundamentally based study of fires must consider at least some aspects of bluff body aerodynamics, multi-phase flow, turbulent mixing and combustion, radiative transport, and conjugate heat transfer; all of which are active research areas in their own right. Finally, the "fuel" in most fires was never intended as such. Thus, the mathematical models and the data needed to characterize the degradation of the condensed phase materials that supply the fuel may not be available. Indeed, the mathematical modeling of the physical and chemical transformations of real materials as they burn is still in its infancy. In order to make progress, the questions that are asked have to be greatly simplified. To begin with, instead of seeking a methodology that can be applied to all fire problems, we begin by looking at a few scenarios that seem to be most amenable to analysis. Hopefully, the methods developed to study these "simple" problems can be generalized over time so that more complex scenarios can be analyzed. Second, we must learn to live with idealized descriptions of fires and approximate solutions to our idealized equations. Finally, the methods should be capable of systematic improvement. As our physical insight and computing power grow more powerful, the methods of analysis can grow with them. To date, three distinct approaches to the simulation of fires have emerged. Each of these treats the fire as an inherently three dimensional process evolving in time. The first to reach maturity, the "zone" models, describe compartment fires. Each compartment is divided into two spatially homogeneous volumes, a hot upper layer and a cool lower layer. Mass and energy balances are enforced for each layer, with additional models describing other physical processes appended as differential or algebraic equations as appropriate. Examples of such phenomena include fire plumes, flows through doors, windows and other vents, radiative and convective heat transfer, and solid fuel pyrolysis. An excellent description of the physical and mathematical assumptions behind the zone modeling concept is given by Quintiere, who chronicles developments through 1983. Model development since then has progressed to the point where documented and supported software implementing these models are widely available.