Spotting during wildfires can significantly influence the way wildfires spread and reduce the chances of successful containment by fire crews. However, there is little published empirical evidence of the phenomenon. In this study, we have analysed spotting patterns observed from 251 wildfires from a database of over 8000 aerial line scan images capturing active wildfire across mainland southeast Australia between 2002 and 2018. The images were used to measure spot fire numbers, number of “long-distance” spot fires (> 500 m), and maximum spotting distance. We describe three types of spotting distance distributions, compare patterns among different regions of southeast Australia, and associate these with broad measures of rainfall, elevation, and fuel type. We found a relatively high correlation between spotting distance and numbers; however, there were also several cases of wildfires with low spot fire numbers producing very long-distance spot fires. Most long-distance spotting was associated with a “multi-modal” distribution type, where high numbers of spot fires ignite close to the source fire and isolated or small clumps of spot fires ignite at longer distances. The multi-modal distribution suggests that current models of spotting distance, which typically follow an exponential-shaped distribution, could underestimate long-distance spotting. We also found considerable regional variation in spotting phenomena that may be associated with significant variation in rainfall, topographic ruggedness, and fuel descriptors. East Victoria was the most spot-fire-prone of the regions, particularly in terms of long-distance spotting.
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