Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a leading cause of death in underground mine fires. To identify safe emergency escape routes, investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), where mine worker safety and health is a research priority, study how to predict the spread of smoke and toxic gases throughout the mine’s ventilation network. Depending on the size of the mine, this vast network can comprise hundreds to thousands of junctions and airways. One way to predict the spread of deadly toxins is through computer programs that simulate a fire in a virtual underground mine.
In the peer-reviewed journal Applied Thermal Engineering, NIOSH investigators report on a study of two such programs and their ability to predict CO spread in an underground mine fire. The Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS), developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, uses the principles of mathematics, physics, and computer coding. The second method, MFIRE, is a widely used mine-fire simulation program developed by the former U.S. Bureau of Mines. (Congress transferred the bureau’s mine safety research functions to NIOSH in 1997 after abolishing the bureau.) Although both programs model the flow of smoke and heat, they have different strengths. For example, the FDS provides detailed information such as airflow speed, direction, and pressure; gas concentration; and fire-related temperatures at different locations near the fire source within the virtual mine. In contrast, MFIRE simulates the mine’s ventilation network and provides information about gas concentration and temperature in each airway in the network.