Effect of woody debris on the rate of spread of surface fires in forest fuels in a combustion wind tunnel

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Journal Article
Forest Ecology and Management, 2018, 424 pp. 236 - 245
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© 2018 The treatment of the contribution of woody debris (WD, such as branches or small logs >6–50 mm diameter) to the rate of forward spread of a fire in current operational forest fire spread models is inconsistent. Some models do not take into account this fuel at all (i.e. only consider the combustion of fine fuels (⩽6 mm diameter)), while others incorporate effects based on little or no data. An experimental programme utilising a large combustion wind tunnel investigated the effect of WD on the spread of fires burning through forest litter (surface fuel) beds of 1.0 kg m-2. Fires spreading with (heading) and against (backing) the wind were investigated. Three treatments of WD load (0.2, 0.6 and 1.2 kg m-2) and a control (0 kg m-2) were studied using a single constant wind speed (1.0 m s-1) and a narrow range of fine and woody fuel moisture contents (10.0–12.7% and 9.2–11.6% oven-dry weight, respectively) determined by ambient conditions. Presence of WD was found to approximately halve the overall rate of spread of heading fires relative to when no WD was present, regardless of the level of treatment. No effect of WD on rate of spread was found for backing fires. Potential explanations of these findings and implications for the use of operational forest fire spread models are explored, as are future research needs.
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