Physics-based simulation of short-range spotting in wildfires

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Wadhwani, Rahul ORCID: 0000-0003-0675-8800 (2019) Physics-based simulation of short-range spotting in wildfires. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Firebrands play a vital role in the propagation of fire fronts and starting new fires called spotfires ahead of fire fronts during wildfire progression. Firebrands are a harbinger of damage to infrastructure; their effects cause a particularly important threat to people living within the wildland-urban-interface, hampers the suppression of the wildfire or even blocking the evacuation routes for communities and emergency services. Short-range firebrands (<750m) which travel along with the wind with little or no lofting are particularly crucial in increasing the fire front propagation and damaging structures situated closed to wildland-urban interface. In the Daylesford fire of 1962, massive short-range spotting (the process of spot fire ignition and merging of spots caused by firebrands) occurred in eucalyptus forest and increased the rate of fire spread by roughly three times more than the computed using empiricial correlation used by operational fire model. Despite the massive importance of short-range firebrands, little research has been conducted because of the safety risks and challenges of fire to emergency service personnel and to the remote equipment like collection boxes, IR cameras, UAVs, which could be used by researchers to quantify and measure fire properties. An operational model to represent the transport of short-range firebrand and their likelihood to ignite the surface fuel like forest litter could be developed from a numerical model. This study first attempts to validate a numerical model of firebrand transport with a set of benchmark experiments. The validation of numerical model is carried out using idealised regular shaped firebrand. Fire Dynamic Simulator (FDS) is an open-source Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) based fire model which is used in this study. The validation of the numerical model is split into two parts focusing on validation of (1) transport, and (2) ignition potential of firebrands. Transport of short range firebrands are modelled in FDS using a lagrangian particle sub-model. The model was validated using two firebrand generators (a plastic pipe-based prototype and stainless steel based main firebrand generator) constructed at our facility as a part of this study. The firebrand generator is equipment which generates a repeatable firebrand shower in a confined space. There are few firebrand dragons built around the world. However, our firebrand generators produce a uniform flow field which simplifies the transport of short-range firebrand to be validated. The set of experiments conducted is used to validate the Lagrangian particle model available in FDS used in the transport of short-range firebrands. The validation is carried out on cubiform, cylindrical, and square disc-shaped firebrands. As the default drag model in FDS was not suitable for shapes of firebrands, the drag model is improved to account for a generic shape of firebrand particle. The results show a reasonable agreement with the experiments for all three shapes over a range of particle Reynolds number. A set of laboratory scale equipment is used to study the ignition likelihood from a short-range firebrand in the numerical model. The boundary fuel vegetation model of FDS is validated. The pyrolysis of vegetation is first tested using thermogravimetric analyser and then with cone calorimeter to estimate mass loss rate, heat-release rate, and time to sustained flaming ignition of three forest litter (pine, eucalyptus, and hay) fuels. Further, a set of thermo-physical properties (thermal conductivity, heat capacity, the heat of pyrolysis, the heat of combustion) of the material tested are also measured using in-house equipment required in the above numerical model. The result showed that the simple linear pyrolysis model is good enough for different forest litter tested with thermogravimetric analyser and cone calorimeter. Finally, a parametric study of short-range firebrand transport inside an open woodland forest canopy is carried out using the validated Lagrangian particle sub-model. The work focuses on understanding how firebrand distribution varies with a set of variable firebrand characteristics in a wildfire and set a stepping stone for the future study. The results are found to be qualitatively similar to the literature.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Current > FOR Classification > 0915 Interdisciplinary Engineering
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > Centre for Environmental Safety and Risk Engineering (CESARE)
Current > Division/Research > College of Science and Engineering
Keywords fire; firebrands; wildfire; fire dynamic simulator; computational fluid dynamics; transport; spotting; Lagrangian Particle sub-model
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