Graduate Project


Simulation of Heat Transfer Through Soil for the Investigation of Wildfire Impacts on Buried Utilities Público Deposited

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  • Wildland urban interface (WUI) communities in the Western United States have recently dealt with historic and devastating wildfires year after year. The fires have cost tens of billions in damage, burned tens of thousands of structures, displaced thousands of residents, and killed over one hundred people. The 2017 Tubbs fire and 2018 Camp fire caused catastrophic infrastructure losses, and extensive fire damage to the water distribution systems in the towns of Santa Rosa and Paradise CA. Fire damage caused the water distribution system to become contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene, a well-known carcinogen. To this day the towns of Santa Rosa and Paradise are still recovering from the water contamination problems caused by the wildfires. This study investigates the heat transfer of wildfires through the soil to quantify if the maximum operational temperature (60ºC) of common pipelines is exceeded during a wildfire. This was accomplished using a one-dimensional transient heat conduction model, that looks at the effect of burial depth, surface burn duration, surface temperature of the fire, surface heat flux, and the thermal diffusivity of the soil. Results of this research indicate that burial depths of pipelines and burn duration of the wildfire are key factors in determining if operational temperatures of the pipeline are exceeded. Under conditions that are expected in a wildfire affecting a WUI community in the intermountain West; maximum operational temperature of the pipelines was exceeded at depths up to 0.45m. A fragility analysis of burial depths reveals that operational temperature of the pipelines will be exceeded at least 50% of the time at depths up to 0.19m. This research will provide useful information for municipalities in WUI communities to plan for future resiliency against wildfires.
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