International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

How do weather and terrain contribute to firefighter entrapments in Australia?

Sebastien Lahaye A D , Jason Sharples A , Stuart Matthews B , Simon Heemstra B , Owen Price C and Rachel Badlan A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, University of New South Wales Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia.

B New South Wales Rural Fire Service, 15 Carter Street, Lidcombe, NSW 2141, Australia.

C Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: sebastien.lahaye@safecluster.com

International Journal of Wildland Fire - https://doi.org/10.1071/WF17114
Submitted: 2 August 2017  Accepted: 10 November 2017   Published online: 15 February 2018

Abstract

Adverse weather conditions and topographic influences are suspected to be responsible for most entrapments of firefighters in Australia. A lack of temporally and spatially coherent set of data however, hinders a clear understanding of the contribution of each weather type or terrain driver on these events. We investigate coronial inquiries and internal fire agencies reports across several Australian states from 1980 to 2017 and retrieve 45 entrapments. A first analysis reveals that most entrapments happen during large fires and that the number of deaths has decreased over the last few decades. Comparing the meteorological and topographical conditions of the entrapments with the conditions of a reference set of fires without entrapment, we build a linear regression model that identifies the main contributors to firefighter entrapment. A change in wind direction, which was associated with 42% of the incidents examined, is the main factor contributing to entrapments. Interaction between strong winds and steep slopes also influences the likelihood of entrapment and suggests that dynamic fire behaviours may also play important roles. As further details of this relationship between dynamic fire propagation and firefighter entrapment is now required, the understanding of weather and terrain contribution is a first step to produce comprehensive safety guidance.

Additional keywords: dynamic fire behaviour, firefighter safety, ruggedness, wind direction change.


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