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International Journal of Wildland Fire
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 Just Accepted

This article has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. It is in production and has not been edited, so may differ from the final published form.

Simulated western spruce budworm defoliation reduces torching and crowning potential: A sensitivity analysis using a physics-based fire model

Gregory Cohn, Russ Parsons, Emily Heyerdahl, Daniel Gavin, Aquila Flower


The widespread, native defoliator western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman) reduces canopy fuels, which might affect the potential for surface fires to torch (ignite the crowns of individual trees) or crown (spread between tree crowns). However, the effects of defoliation on fire behavior are poorly understood, and previous work has not addressed defoliation effects at the scale of individual trees. We conducted a sensitivity analysis using a physics-based fire model to examine the effects of defoliation and three aspects of how the phenomenon is represented in the model (the spatial distribution of defoliation within tree crowns, potential branchwood drying, and model resolution). Our simulations suggest that defoliation reduces the potential for both torching and crowning, with greater surface fire intensity required to ignite the crown of a defoliated compared to an undefoliated tree of the same crown base height. The effects of defoliation were somewhat mitigated by canopy fuel heterogeneity and potential branchwood drying, but these effects, as well as cell size, were less pronounced than the effect of defoliation itself. Our study suggests that areas heavily defoliated by western spruce budworm may inhibit the spread of crown fires and promote non-lethal surface fires.

WF13074  Accepted 24 February 2014
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