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Exploring the impact of airtanker drops on in-stand temperature and relative humidity

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Background. There has been little quantification of the extent and duration of micro- meteorological changes within a forest after airtanker drops of water-based suppressant. It has been speculated that a period of prolonged relative humidity – referred to as a ‘relative humidity (RH) bubble’ – temporarily exists in the canopy understorey post-drop. Aims. We quantify the RH bubble from the drops of five airtankers commonly used by wildland fire management organisations in Canada. Methods. We measured airtankers dropping water, foam concentrates, and gel enhancers in a mature jack pine stand. We examined the duration of change in RH and temperature using Generalised Additive Models, and the consequence of these changes on fine fuel moisture. Key results. The average maximum RH increased and temperature decreased, indicating that the effects of the ‘RH bubble’ in-stand lasted from 25 to 76 min, depending upon the airtanker type and load configuration. Conclusion. Airtanker drops cause an in-stand increase in RH and decrease in temperature, but this ambient change has a limited effect on potential fire behaviour. Implications. The direct effect of water wetting the fuel is the most impactful effect of an airtanker drop. The ‘RH bubble’ created, though observable, does not change fine fuel moisture enough to impact fire behaviour.

M. Wheatley; A. Cotton-Gagnon; J. Boucher; M. Wotton; C.B. McFayden; N. Jurko; J. Robinson

Wheatley M, Cotton-Gagnon A, Boucher J, B. Wotton M, McFayden CB, Jurko N, Robinson J. Exploring the impact of airtanker drops on in-stand temperature and relative humidity. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 2023 .

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