8 Meteorological and fire behavioural lessons learned from the Aberfeldy Fire (Victoria) on 17 January 2013

Tuesday, 5 May 2015
Lake Minnetonka (Crowne Plaza Minneapolis Northstar)
Robert JB Fawcett, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Melbourne, Vic, Australia; and T. Wells, C. Yeo, and W. Thurston

Rapid fire spread occurred unexpectedly near Aberfeldy in eastern Victoria (Australia) on the evening of 17 January 2013, threatening to impact the catchment of Lake Thomson, the largest water supply for the city of Melbourne. The fire is believed to have begun around 11:30am. In the first 16 hours it spread 30 km to the southeast and burned 20,000 ha. A south-westerly wind change lead to a further 25,000 ha being burned in only eight hours.

Analysis of the fire has identified meteorological, fuel and topographical aspects contributing to the fire spread and has raised awareness of bias factors for the operators of fire prediction models. The findings point to the benefits fire agencies gain from working closely with their national meteorological service in joint efforts to predict bushfire behaviour.

Three aspects of this fire are particularly interesting: (i) much of the most rapid fire spread occurred overnight, (ii) much of the area burnt encompassed terrain with slopes greater than 20°, and (iii) fires with similar characteristics have occurred in the region before.

We present the results of high-resolution numerical weather prediction modelling of the weather for this event, using the Bureau of Meteorology's ACCESS model which incorporates the UK Met Office's Unified Model as its atmospheric component.

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