Resolving vorticity-driven lateral fire spread using the WRF-Fire coupled atmosphere-fire numerical model.

Simpson, C.C., J.J. Sharples and J.P. Evans
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 2, 3499-3531, doi: 10.5194/nhessd-2-3499-2014, 2014.


Fire channelling is a form of dynamic fire behaviour, during which a wildland fire spreads rapidly across a steep lee-facing slope in a direction transverse to the background winds, and is often accompanied by a downwind extension of the active flaming region and extreme pyro-convection. Recent work using the WRF-Fire coupled atmosphere-fire model has demonstrated that fire channelling can be characterised as vorticity-driven lateral fire spread (VDLS). In this study, 16 simulations are conducted using WRF-Fire to examine the sensitivity of resolving VDLS to spatial resolution and atmosphere-fire coupling within the WRF-Fire model framework. The horizontal grid spacing is varied between 25 and 90 m, and the two-way atmosphere-fire coupling is either enabled or disabled. At high spatial resolution, the atmosphere-fire coupling increases the peak uphill and lateral spread rate by a factor of up to 2.7 and 9.5. The enhancement of the uphill and lateral spread rate diminishes at coarser spatial resolution, and VDLS is not modelled for a horizontal grid spacing of 90 m. The laterally spreading fire fronts become the dominant contributors of the extreme pyro-convection. The resolved fire-induced vortices responsible for driving the lateral spread in the coupled simulations have non-zero vorticity along each unit vector direction, and develop due to an interaction between the background winds and vertical return circulations generated at the flank of the fire front as part of the pyro-convective updraft. The results presented in this study demonstrate that both high spatial resolution and two-way atmosphere-fire coupling are required to reproduce VDLS within the current WRF-Fire model framework.

Key Figure

Fig. 6. Southerly and northerly spread rate (km h-1), based on 5 min averaging, following the prescribed ignition for each (a, b) coupled and (c, d) non-coupled simulation.

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