Anatomy of a catastrophic wildfire: The Black Saturday Kilmore East fire in Victoria, Australia

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Fire Behaviour
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TitleAnatomy of a catastrophic wildfire: The Black Saturday Kilmore East fire in Victoria, Australia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsCruz, MG, Sullivan, A, Gould, JS, Sims, NC, Bannister, AJ, Hollis, JJ, Hurley, RJ
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Date Published8/2012
AbstractThe 7 February 2009 wildfires in south-eastern Australia burned over 450,000 ha and resulted in 173 human fatalities. The Kilmore East fire was the most significant of these fires, burning 100,000 ha in less than 12 h and accounting for 70% of the fatalities. We report on the weather conditions, fuels and propagation of this fire to gain insights into the physical processes involved in high intensity fire behaviour in eucalypt forests. Driven by a combination of exceedingly dry fuel and near-gale to gale force winds, the fire developed a dynamic of profuse short range spotting that resulted in rates of fire spread varying between 68 and 153 m min−1 and average fireline intensities up to 88,000 kW m−1. Strong winds aloft and the development of a strong convection plume led to the transport of firebrands over considerable distances causing the ignition of spotfires up to 33 km ahead of the main fire front. The passage of a wind change between 17:30 and 18:30 turned the approximately 55 km long eastern flank of the fire into a headfire. Spotting and mass fire behaviour associated with this wide front resulted in the development of a pyrocumulonimbus cloud that injected smoke and other combustion products into the lower stratosphere. The benchmark data collected in this case study will be invaluable for the evaluation of fire behaviour models. The study is also a source of real world data from which simulation studies investigating the impact of landscape fuel management on the propagation of fire under the most severe burning conditions can be undertaken.
Short TitleForest Ecology and Management
Refereed DesignationRefereed