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Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 13, issue 9 | Copyright
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2157-2167, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 06 Sep 2013

Research article | 06 Sep 2013

Forest fire danger rating in complex topography – results from a case study in the Bavarian Alps in autumn 2011

C. Schunk1, C. Wastl1,*, M. Leuchner1, C. Schuster1, and A. Menzel1,2 C. Schunk et al.
  • 1Chair of Ecoclimatology, Technische Universität München, Hans-Carl-von-Carlowitz-Platz 2, 85354 Freising, Germany
  • 2Institute for Advanced Study, Technische Universität München, Lichtenbergstr. 2a, 85748 Garching, Germany
  • *now at: Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, Vienna, Austria

Abstract. Forest fire danger rating based on sparse meteorological stations is known to be potentially misleading when assigned to larger areas of complex topography. This case study examines several fire danger indices based on data from two meteorological stations at different elevations during a major drought period.

This drought was caused by a persistent high pressure system, inducing a pronounced temperature inversion and its associated thermal belt with much warmer, dryer conditions in intermediate elevations. Thus, a massive drying of fuels, leading to higher fire danger levels, and multiple fire occurrences at mid-slope positions were contrasted by moderate fire danger especially in the valleys. The ability of fire danger indices to resolve this situation was studied based on a comparison with the actual fire danger as determined from expert observations, fire occurrences and fuel moisture measurements.

The results revealed that, during temperature inversion, differences in daily cycles of meteorological parameters influence fire danger and that these are not resolved by standard meteorological stations and fire danger indices (calculated on a once-a-day basis). Additional stations in higher locations or high-resolution meteorological models combined with fire danger indices accepting at least hourly input data may allow reasonable fire danger calculations under these circumstances.

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