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Evaluating the Ability of FARSITE to Simulate Wildfires Influenced by Extreme, Downslope Winds in Santa Barbara, California

Author(s): Katelyn Zigner, Leila M. V. Carvalho, Seth H. Peterson, Francis M. Fujioka, Gert-Jan Duine, Charles Jones, Dar A. Roberts, Max A. Moritz
Year Published: 2020

Extreme, downslope mountain winds often generate dangerous wildfire conditions. We used the wildfire spread model Fire Area Simulator (FARSITE) to simulate two wildfires influenced by strong wind events in Santa Barbara, CA. High spatial-resolution imagery for fuel maps and hourly wind downscaled to 100 m were used as model inputs, and sensitivity tests were performed to evaluate the effects of ignition timing and location on fire spread. Additionally, burn area rasters from FARSITE simulations were compared to minimum travel time rasters from FlamMap simulations, a wildfire model similar to FARSITE that holds environmental variables constant. Utilization of two case studies during strong winds revealed that FARSITE was able to successfully reconstruct the spread rate and size of wildfires when spotting was minimal. However, in situations when spotting was an important factor in rapid downslope wildfire spread, both FARSITE and FlamMap were unable to simulate realistic fire perimeters. We show that this is due to inherent limitations in the models themselves, related to the slope-orientation relative to the simulated fire spread, and the dependence of ember launch and land locations. This finding has widespread implications, given the role of spotting in fire progression during extreme wind events.

Citation: Zigner, Katelyn; Carvalho, Leila M. V.; Peterson, Seth H.; Fujioka, Francis M.; Duine, Gert-Jan; Jones, Charles; Roberts, Dar A.; Moritz, Max A. 2020. Evaluating the ability of FARSITE to simulate wildfires influenced by extreme, downslope winds in Santa Barbara, California. Fire 3(3):29. https://doi.org/10.3390/fire3030029
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Simulation Modeling, Flammap, Weather
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 21619
FRAMES RCS number: 61603
Record updated: Aug 5, 2020