Wind-terrain effects on firebrand dynamics

J. E. Hilton, J. J. Sharples, N. Garg, Murray Rudman, W. Swedosh, D. Commins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperOther


Despite its importance in bushfire propagation, firebrand transport and the spotting process are still poorly understood, and there is no definitive model that can adequately emulate the spotting process in general. The dynamics of firebrands are difficult to predict due to the complex flow structure resulting from the interaction of a buoyant plume with a boundary layer wind field. Understanding the nature of this flow structure, especially for complex terrain, is essential for determining the likely path of firebrands and subsequent distributions of new spot fires and risk levels on structures downwind from the fire. Although several prior computational modelling studies have carried out investigations of firebrand transport, the effect of the terrain has not previously been taken into account. It is well known that topography can significantly affect ember generation. For example, the enhanced intensity of a fire running up a steep slope can generate a large number of embers. More generally, terrain-modified flows and the strong turbulence associated with leeward slopes and flow around other prominent topographic features may have a pronounced effect on the transport of firebrands. Moreover, modes of dynamic fire propagation such as vorticity-driven lateral spread and eruptive fire spread in canyons involve a coupling between the fire, the terrain and the prevailing winds and so can affect the rate at which firebrands are produced as well as their subsequent transport. In this study we use a coupled computational fluid dynamic (CFD) and Lagrangian particle approach to model the transport of firebrands. The model is applied to two different terrain scenarios to investigate the flow dynamics, firebrand trajectories and landing patterns resulting from the interaction with the terrain. The first scenario is a line of fire on the lee slope of a ridge burning perpendicular to an incident wind flow. The second scenario is a fire burning in a canyon aligned with the wind. The simulations indicate that the addition of terrain adds a further level of complexity to the flows generated by interaction between the wind and the fire. The terrain appears to modify the counter-rotating vortex pair in the plume structure. For the fire in the lee of the ridge line, the wind-terrain interaction resulted in a flattening and tilting of the counter-rotating vortex pair and enhanced regions of recirculation at the edges of the fire, which were conducive to lateral transport of embers. For the fire in the canyon, the channelling of the winds up the canyon resulted in the formation of a single jet-like vortex transporting firebrands upwards and over the top of the canyon. We hypothesise that this effect is caused by the shape and alignment of the canyon, which forces the vortex pair to merge into a single vortex.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication23rd International Congress on Modelling and Simulation - Supporting Evidence-Based Decision Making
Subtitle of host publicationThe Role of Modelling and Simulation, MODSIM 2019
EditorsS. Elsawah
PublisherModelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (MSSANZ)
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9780975840092
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventInternational Congress on Modelling and Simulation 2019 - Canberra, Australia
Duration: 1 Dec 20196 Dec 2019
Conference number: 23rd


ConferenceInternational Congress on Modelling and Simulation 2019
Abbreviated titleMODSIM 2019
Internet address


  • Computational fluid dynamics
  • Firebrand
  • Spark
  • Wildfire modelling

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