International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire

Sensitivity of a surface fire spread model and associated fire behaviour fuel models to changes in live fuel moisture

W. Matt Jolly
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USDA Forest Service, RMRS, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT, USA. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 16(4) 503-509
Submitted: 16 May 2006  Accepted: 2 February 2007   Published: 20 August 2007


Fire behaviour models are used to assess the potential characteristics of wildland fires such as rates of spread, fireline intensity and flame length. These calculations help support fire management strategies while keeping fireline personnel safe. Live fuel moisture is an important component of fire behaviour models but the sensitivity of existing models to live fuel moisture has not been thoroughly evaluated. The Rothermel surface fire spread model was used to estimate key surface fire behaviour values over a range of live fuel moistures for all 53 standard fuel models. Fire behaviour characteristics are shown to be highly sensitive to live fuel moisture but the response is fuel model dependent. In many cases, small changes in live fuel moisture elicit drastic changes in predicted fire behaviour. These large changes are a result of a combination of the model-calculated live fuel moisture of extinction, the effective wind speed limit and the dynamic load transfer function of some of the fuel models tested. Surface fire spread model sensitivity to live fuel moisture changes is discussed in the context of predicted fire fighter safety zone area because the area of a predicted safety zone may increase by an order of magnitude for a 10% decrease in live fuel moisture depending on the fuel model chosen.

Additional keywords: fire behaviour models, live fuel moisture, live fuel moisture of extinction, safety zones.


I would like to thank Pat Andrews and the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. This research was supported in part by funds provided by the Joint Fire Science Program and the Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Service, USA Department of Agriculture. We would like to thank Chip Collins and members of the National Park Service live fuel moisture sampling team in the Grand Tetons National Park for sharing the live fuel moisture data presented here.


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