Fighting fire with physics

Bryce Moreira’s University of Guelph physics degree made him a leader in the fight against wildfires in southern British Columbia.

An aviation specialist with Kamloops Fire Centre, Moreira crafts firefighting strategies using his knowledge of physics and math. In recent years, with longer, hotter and drier fire seasons in the province’s forests, his job has been intensely demanding.

Moreira, 30, is able to keep cool under pressure in part because of the practical skills he learned studying physics at U of G.

“Because of my degree, I was able to get a job with the BC Wildfire Service in the winter, a job that was directly applicable to physics,” says Moreira, who grew up in B.C.


During fire season, he becomes the air operations branch director when deployed with Kamloops Fire Centre’s incident management team. He oversees helicopter suppression of fires, including transporting firefighters to hot zones and dumping massive buckets of water on fires.

Depending on the size of the fire, the response can involve anywhere from one to 30 helicopters. While Moreira is not a pilot himself, he sometimes finds himself in the co-pilot’s chair hovering over a blaze.

Because operation parameters change constantly, pinpoint calculations are needed to ensure the best possible response and outcome, he says.

“It certainly can be a lot of pressure, but we all accept that pressure as part of the job we have,” he says. “I am looking for the best possible way to control and suppress the fire and to protect life and property. You have to take it one task at a time.”

Fighting fire with physics
Kamloops Fire Centre crew members with Bryce Moreira on the right.

His U of G education gave him a good foundation for understanding physics and its many applications. He graduated in 2013. His job primarily involves the analysis and organization of complex and urgent firefighting strategies. The more fires burning, the more involved the strategy becomes.

The 2017 and 2018 fire seasons in B.C. were the most extreme in the province’s history, burning more forest and forcing more evacuations than ever before.

Climate change, he says, is contributing to the higher number and larger size of fires. Dry conditions caused by a lack of winter snowfall and extreme temperatures in spring and summer are the major contributors.

Extreme fire seasons are likely to become more common as global temperatures continue to rise, according to a recent study by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Each summer during his university program, Moreira returned to Kamloops to work for the BC Wildfire Service, summer employment he started while still in high school. He gained hands-on experience fighting fires.

“Being able to understand things from their basic principles and seeing the root cause helped me to solve unique problems that come up day-to-day in my work.”