Santa Ana winds and predictors of wildfire progression in Southern California

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Santa Ana winds have been implicated as a major driver of large wildfires in southern California. While numerous anecdotal reports exist, there is little quantitative analysis in peer-reviewed literature on how this weather phenomenon influences fire progression rates. We analysed fire progression within 158 fire events in southern California as a function of meteorologically defined Santa Ana conditions between 2001 and 2009. Our results show quantitatively that burned area per day is 3.5–4.5 times larger on Santa Ana days than on non-Santa Ana days. Santa Ana definition parameters (relative humidity, wind speed) along with other predictor variables (air temperature, fuel temperature, 10-h fuel moisture, population density, slope, fuel loading, previous-day burn perimeter) were tested individually and in combination for correlation with subsets of daily burned area. Relative humidity had the most consistently strong correlation with burned area per day. Gust and peak wind speed had a strong positive correlation with burned area per day particularly within subsets of burned area representing only the first day of a fire, >500 ha burned areas, and on Santa Ana days. The suite of variables comprising the best-fit generalised linear model for predicting burned area (R 2= 0.41) included relative humidity, peak wind speed, previous-day burn perimeter and two binary indicators for first and last day of a fire event.

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© 2014 International Association of Wildland Fire. Publisher's version of record: http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF13046

Publication Title

International Journal of Wildland Fire