The extent and severity of bushfires in a landscape are largely governed by meteorological conditions. An accurate understanding of the interactions of meteorological variables and fire behaviour in the landscape is very complex, yet possible. In exploring such understanding, we used 2693 high-confidence active fire points recorded by a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor for nine different bushfires that occurred in Victoria between 1 January 2009 and 31 March 2009. These fires include the Black Saturday Bushfires of 7 February 2009, one of the worst bushfires in Australian history. For each fire point, 62 different meteorological parameters of bushfire time were extracted from Bureau of Meteorology Atmospheric high-resolution Regional Reanalysis for Australia (BARRA) data. These remote sensing and meteorological datasets were fused and further processed in assessing their relative importance using four different tree-based ensemble machine learning models, namely, Random Forest (RF), Fuzzy Forest (FF), Boosted Regression Tree (BRT), and Extreme Gradient Boosting (XGBoost). Google Earth Engine (GEE) and Landsat images were used in deriving the response variable–Relative Difference Normalised Burn Ratio (RdNBR), which was selected by comparing its performance against Difference Normalised Burn Ratio (dNBR). Our findings demonstrate that the FF algorithm utilising the Weighted Gene Coexpression Network Analysis (WGCNA) method has the best predictive performance of 96.50%, assessed against 10-fold cross-validation. The result shows that the relative influence of the variables on bushfire severity is in the following order: (1) soil moisture, (2) soil temperature, (3) air pressure, (4) air temperature, (5) vertical wind, and (6) relative humidity. This highlights the importance of soil meteorology in bushfire severity analysis, often excluded in bushfire severity research. Further, this study provides a scientific basis for choosing a subset of meteorological variables for bushfire severity prediction depending on their relative importance. The optimal subset of high-ranked variables is extremely useful in constructing simplified and computationally efficient surrogate models, which can be particularly useful for the rapid assessment of bushfire severity for operational bushfire management and effective mitigation efforts.
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