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Simulation and thermal imaging of the 2006 Esperanza Wildfire in southern California: application of a coupled weather–wildland fire model

Janice L. Coen A C and Philip J. Riggan B

A National Center for Atmospheric Research, PO Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307-3000, USA.
B Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, 4955 Canyon Crest Drive, Riverside, CA 92507, USA.
C Corresponding author. Email: janicec@ucar.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF12194
Submitted: 19 November 2012  Accepted: 7 April 2014   Published online: 9 July 2014


 
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Abstract

The 2006 Esperanza Fire in Riverside County, California, was simulated with the Coupled Atmosphere–Wildland Fire Environment (CAWFE) model to examine how dynamic interactions of the atmosphere with large-scale fire spread and energy release may affect observed patterns of fire behaviour as mapped using the FireMapper thermal-imaging radiometer. CAWFE simulated the meteorological flow in and near the fire, the fire’s growth as influenced by gusty Santa Ana winds and interactions between the fire and weather through fire-induced winds during the first day of burning. The airflow was characterised by thermally stratified, two-layer flow channelled between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges with transient flow accelerations driving the fire in Cabazon Peak’s lee. The simulation reproduced distinguishing features of the fire including its overall direction and width, rapid spread west-south-westward across canyons, spread up canyons crossing its southern flank, splitting into two heading regions and feathering of the fire line. The simulation correctly depicted the fire’s location at the time of an early-morning incident involving firefighter fatalities. It also depicted periods of deep plume growth, but anomalously described downhill spread of the head of the fire under weak winds that was less rapid than observed. Although capturing the meteorological flow was essential to reproducing the fire’s evolution, fuel factors including fuel load appeared to play a secondary role.

Additional keywords: airborne remote sensing, coupled atmosphere–fire model, fire behaviour, horizontal roll vortices, Santa Ana winds.


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