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Researchers warn of wind fire danger

New research shows firefighters could be left trapped in remote areas.

New research shows firefighters could be left trapped in remote areas. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Research conducted using mobile weather stations near Canberra has shone new light on a weather phenomenon which could quickly leave fire fighters trapped in remote areas.

Researchers will outline some of the findings from studies carried out in the wake of the January 2003 Canberra fires at a public presentation on Thursday night.

Rick McRae, special risks analyst at the ACT Emergency Services Agency, said research carried out in Namadgi National Park had provided new information on how winds on the downwind-side of mountains could influence fire behaviour.

''On these fire days on the downwind side of the ridges you gets what's called a lee slope eddy,'' Mr McRae said.

''As the winds go up to the top of the ridge - they get to the ridgetop they separate and they travel downwind for some time before they rejoin the ground. And in that separation gap you get a reverse vortex, or eddy forming and that does interesting things to fire behaviour.''

Researchers studied wind behaviour using portable weather stations in areas which were burned by the 2003 fires.

''We actually had to cart portable weather stations into places where you're not meant to put them - like halfway down the Tidbinbilla Range or on the side of the Brindabellas, to actually measure what the winds are doing there,'' Mr McRae said.

''Meteorologists always put them on flat country like at the airport here or on the top of hills.''

Mr McRae said the research reinforced the need for fire crews sent into remote areas to keep watch to ensure potential escape routes remained clear if conditions deteriorated.

In a study published last year, Mr McRae and his colleague Jason Sharples, of the University of NSW, discussed how a ''fire tornado'' formed during the devastating 2003 fires.

Mr McRae and Dr Sharples will discuss the findings of research conducted after the fires in CSIRO Discovery Centre at 7pm.

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