Fire Simulation for Engineers/Approaches
Four 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 cooler 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. Model development has progressed to the point where documented and supported software implementing these models are widely available, such as The Consolidated Model of Fire and Smoke Transport (CFAST).
CFAST is a two-zone fire model used to calculate the evolving distribution of smoke, fire gases and temperature throughout compartments of a building during a fire. Visit  for further information..
The relative physical and computational simplicity of the zone models has led to their widespread use in the analysis of fire scenarios. So long as detailed spatial distributions of physical properties are not required, and the two layer description reasonably approximates reality, these models are quite reliable. However, by their very nature, there is no way to systematically improve them.
Computational fluid dynamics models
The rapid growth of computing power and the corresponding maturing of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), has led to the development of CFD based field models applied to fire research problems. Virtually all this work is based on the conceptual framework provided by the Reynolds-averaged form of the Navier-Stokes equations (RANS). The use of CFD models has allowed the description of fires in complex geometries, and the incorporation of a wide variety of physical phenomena.
However, these models have a fundamental limitation for fire applications – the averaging procedure at the root of the model equations.
Reynolds-averaged Navier Stokes (RANS) models were developed as a time-averaged approximation to the conservation equations of fluid dynamics. While the precise nature of the averaging time is not specified, it is clearly long enough to require the introduction of large eddy transport coefficients to describe the unresolved fluxes of mass, momentum and energy. This is the root cause of the smoothed appearance of the results of even the most highly resolved fire simulations. The smallest resolvable length scales are determined by the product of the local velocity and the averaging time rather than the spatial resolution of the underlying computational grid.
Unfortunately, the evolution of large eddy structures characteristic of most fire plumes is lost with such an approach, as is the prediction of local transient events. It is sometimes argued that the averaging process used to define the equations is an ensemble average over many replicates of the same experiment or postulated scenario. However, this is a moot point in fire research since neither experiments nor real scenarios are replicated in the sense required by that interpretation of the equations.
The application of Large Eddy Simulation (LES) techniques to fire is aimed at extracting greater temporal and spatial fidelity from simulations of fire performed on the more finely meshed grids allowed by ever faster computers.
The phrase LES refers to the description of turbulent mixing of the gaseous fuel and combustion products with the local atmosphere surrounding the fire. This process, which determines the burning rate in most fires and controls the spread of smoke and hot gases, is extremely difficult to predict accurately. This is true not only in fire research but in almost all phenomena involving turbulent fluid motion. The basic idea behind the LES technique is that the eddies that account for most of the mixing are large enough to be calculated with reasonable accuracy from the equations of fluid dynamics. The hope (which must ultimately be justified by comparison to experiments) is that small-scale eddy motion can either be crudely accounted for or ignored.
The fourth approach is Direct Numerical Simulation (DNS). DNS is a simulation in computational fluid dynamics in which the Navier-Stokes equations are numerically solved without any turbulence model. This means that the whole range of spatial and temporal scales of the turbulence must be resolved in the computational mesh.
The computational cost of DNS is very high, even at low Reynolds numbers. For the Reynolds numbers encountered in most industrial applications, the computational resources required by a DNS would exceed the capacity of the most powerful computers currently available.