12A.5 Perth, Western Australia wildfires of January 2005: Meteorological challenges of fire control and smoke plume predicition in a forest - urban environment

Thursday, 4 August 2005: 11:30 AM
Empire Ballroom (Omni Shoreham Hotel Washington D.C.)
Bruce William Buckley, Insurance Australia Group, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; and L. M. Leslie and G. Reader

The hills region immediately inland from Perth, the capital city of the state of Western Australia with a population of 1.5 million people, was subjected to wildfire outbreaks spanning the 8-day period from the night of Saturday, 15 January 2005 through to the 23 January 2005. This region poses particular problems to fire control agencies as urbanisation has encroached in narrow corridors into thick dry sclerophyll forest. This fire outbreak was the largest fire in the southwest of Western Australia's northern jarrah forests for 45 years and posed the greatest threats to the people and infrastructure of Perth for a similar period. A significant feature of this event was the extensive smoke plume that covered large parts of the heavily urbanised metropolitan area for several days, producing the highest concentrations of particulate pollution in Perth's history with a corresponding sharp increase in the risk of respiratory illnesses to the local population. Preliminary high resolution numerical modelling results of this long lived smoke plume will be presented, together with verifying satellite imagery from polar orbiting satellites. The multi-facetted role of the operational meteorologists during the event will be explained. The workload of the staff was significantly elevated for the duration of the fire event. Services provided included: ongoing provision of detailed fire weather support over both short and medium time frames to the operation fire combating agencies; complementary telephone briefings to fire control managers; frequent media interaction on a diverse range of topics ranging from current and predicted weather influences on the fire threat, comments on the reasons for the severity of the smoke pollution and forecasts of its future location and intensity, and explanations for some spectacular views of the fire smoke plume and pyrocumulus lenticularis that dominated the skyline one afternoon. The services provided were an integral component of the fire control efforts and made extensive use of a variety of satellite, aircraft and surface based observation techniques and utilised a range of numerical model output. Fire agencies declared the meteorological support provided to be highly successful with no lives lost, limited damage to property and infrastructure and no criticism from the media a defacto measure of community satisfaction with the services provided.

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