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

The role of weather, past fire and topography in crown fire occurrence in eastern Australia

Michael Storey A , Owen Price A C and Elizabeth Tasker B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

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

B Science Division, New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, 43 Bridge Street, Hurstville, NSW 2220, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: oprice@uow.edu.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 25(10) 1048-1060 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF15171
Submitted: 18 September 2015  Accepted: 21 June 2016   Published: 21 September 2016

Abstract

We analysed the influence of weather, time since fire (TSF) and topography on the occurrence of crown fire, as mapped from satellite imagery, in 23 of the largest wildfires in dry sclerophyll forests in eastern Australia from 2002 to 2013. Fires were analysed both individually and as groups. Fire weather was the most important predictor of crown consumption. TSF (a surrogate for fuel accumulation) had complex nonlinear effects that varied among fires. Crown fire likelihood was low up to 4 years post-fire, peaked at ~10 years post-fire and then declined. There was no clear indication that recent burning became more or less effective as fire weather became more severe. Steeper slope reduced crown fire likelihood, contrary to the assumptions of common fire behaviour equations. More exposed areas (ridges and plains) had higher crown fire likelihood. Our results suggest prescribed burning to maintain an average of 10 years’ TSF may actually increase crown fire likelihood, but burning much more frequently can be effective for risk reduction. Our results also suggest the effects of weather, TSF and slope are not adequately represented in the underlying equations of most fire behaviour models, potentially leading to poor prediction of fire spread and risk.

Additional keywords: fire management, fire severity, fuel accumulation, prescribed burning, wildfire.


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