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Terry L. Clark, Mary Ann Jenkins, Janice Coen, and David Packham

Abstract

The object of this paper is to describe and demonstrate the necessity and utility of a coupled atmosphere-fire model: a three-dimensional, time-dependent wildfire simulation model, based on the primitive equations of motion and thermodynamics, that can represent the finescale dynamics of convective processes and capture ambient meteorological conditions.

In constructing this coupled model, model resolution for both the atmosphere and the fuel was found to be important in avoiding solutions that are physically unrealistic, and this aspect is discussed. The anelastic approximation is made in the equations of motion, and whether this dynamical framework is appropriate in its usual form for simulating wildfire behavior is also considered.

Two simple experiments-the first two in a series of numerical simulations using the coupled atmosphere- fire model-are presented here, showing the effect of wind speed on fire-line evolution in idealized and controlled conditions. The first experiment considers a 420-m-long fire line, and the second considers a 1500-m-long fire fine, where wind speeds normal to the initial fire lines vary from 1 to 5 m s−1. In agreement with some general observations, the short fire line remains stable and eventually develops a single conical shape, providing the wind speed is greater than about 1–2 m s−1, while under similar conditions, the longer fire line breaks up into multiple conical shapes. In both cases, the conical shapes are attributed to a feedback between the hot convective plumes and the near-surface convergence at the fire front. The experimental results reveal a dynamical explanation for fire-line breakup and geometry, demonstrating that the model is a valuable tool with which to investigate fire dynamics, and eventually it may be able to provide a credible scientific basis for policy decisions made by the meteorological and fire-management communities.

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