Experimental and computational characterization of strong vent flow enclosure fires
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Firefighters often arrive at structures in which the state of fire progression can be described as ventilation-controlled or under-ventilated. This means that inside the enclosure the pyrolyzed fuel has consumed most, if not all of the available oxygen, resulting in incomplete combustion. Under-ventilated (fuel rich) combustion is particularly dangerous to occupants because of the high yield of toxins such as carbon monoxide and to firefighters because once firefighters enter the structure and introduce oxidizer, the environment can rapidly change into a very dangerous, fast burning condition. The fuel load in many compartment fires would support a several megawatt fire if the fire were not ventilation controlled. In the process of making entrance to the fire compartment, firefighters will likely provide additional ventilation paths for the fire and may initiate firefighting tactics like positive pressure ventilation to push the hot flammable combustion products out of the attack pathway. Forced ventilation creates a strongly mixed flow within the fire compartment. Ventilation creates a complex fluid mechanics and combustion environment that is generally not analyzed on the scale of compartment fires. To better understand the complex coupling of these phenomena, compartment scale non-reacting and reacting experiments were conducted. The experiments, which were conducted at The University of Texas at Austin’s fire research facility, were designed to gain insight into the effects of ventilation on compartment thermal characteristics. Computational models (low and high order) were used to augment the non-reacting and reacting experimental results. Though computationally expensive, computational fluid dynamics models provided significant detail into the coupling of buoyantly driven fire products with externally applied wind or fan flow. A partially stirred reactor model was used to describe strongly driven fire compartment combustion processes because previously there was not an appropriate low dimensional computational tool applicable to this type of problem. This dissertation will focus on the experimental and computational characterization of strong vent flows on single room enclosure fires.