(Photo credit: Rebuild Christchurch)
Scion rural fire research team members, with the help of collaborators at the University of Canterbury, recently published an article entitled: “A Meteorological Study of the Port Hills Fire, Christchurch, New Zealand”, in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. The article explores the influence of weather on the occurrence of unexpected and unusual fire behaviour during the Port Hills wildfire.
The Port Hills Fire occurred as two separate fires on 13 February 2017 in the Port Hills just south of Christchurch. These fires joined two days later into a major wildfire that was record-breaking for New Zealand in terms of property loss, the threat to infrastructure, scale of evacuation, and smoke impact on the urban population. The main fire activity lasted until the early morning of 16 February. The combined fires (collectively referred to as the Port Hills Fire) covered a total area of 1661 ha, with a final perimeter of 61 km and it took 66 days for the fire to be declared completely extinguished.
The unusual fire behaviour included two fast downhill fire spread events and highly active fire behaviour evidenced by the formation of a large pyrocumulus plume. Fast downhill fire spread poses a risk to the safety of firefighters as it is generally assumed that fires spread faster uphill than downhill. Firefighting often takes place downhill from a fire in complex terrain, as it is considered safer. Rapid downhill fire runs can take firefighters by surprise and put them in danger and it is therefore important to understand the weather that can cause this behaviour, which is what this study aims to do.
The full article can be accessed here.
Previous papers on the Port Hills wildfire by members of the Scion fire team also formed part of a special issue of the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies published in 2018.