Articles | Volume 14, issue 9
Research article
05 Sep 2014
Research article |  | 05 Sep 2014

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

C. C. Simpson, J. J. Sharples, and J. P. Evans

Abstract. Vorticity-driven lateral fire spread (VLS) is a form of dynamic fire behaviour, during which a wildland fire spreads rapidly across a steep leeward slope in a direction approximately transverse to the background winds. VLS is often accompanied by a downwind extension of the active flaming region and intense pyro-convection. In this study, the WRF-Fire (WRF stands for Weather Research and Forecasting) coupled atmosphere–fire model is used to examine the sensitivity of resolving VLS to both the horizontal and vertical grid spacing, and the fire-to-atmosphere coupling from within the model framework. The atmospheric horizontal and vertical grid spacing are varied between 25 and 90 m, and the fire-to-atmosphere coupling is either enabled or disabled. At high spatial resolutions, the inclusion of fire-to-atmosphere coupling increases the upslope and lateral rate of spread by factors of up to 2.7 and 9.5, respectively. This increase in the upslope and lateral rate of spread diminishes at coarser spatial resolutions, and VLS is not modelled for a horizontal and vertical grid spacing of 90 m. The lateral fire spread is driven by fire whirls formed due to an interaction between the background winds and the vertical circulation generated at the flank of the fire front as part of the pyro-convective updraft. The laterally advancing fire fronts become the dominant contributors to the extreme pyro-convection. The results presented in this study demonstrate that both high spatial resolution and two-way atmosphere–fire coupling are required to model VLS with WRF-Fire.

Final-revised paper