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

Ignition and fire spread thresholds in gorse (Ulex europaeus)

Stuart A. J. Anderson A C D and Wendy R. Anderson B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Scion, Rural Fire Research Group, PO Box 29237, Fendalton, Christchurch 8540, New Zealand.

B University of New South Wales at ADFA, Northcott Drive, ACT 2600, Australia.

C Present address: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, PO Box 1340, Rotorua 3040, New Zealand.

D Corresponding author. Email: stuart.anderson@maf.govt.nz

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(5) 589-598 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF09008
Submitted: 28 January 2009  Accepted: 20 November 2009   Published: 9 August 2010

Abstract

Field experiments were carried out in stands of gorse (Ulex europaeus L.) in New Zealand to determine the conditions under which fires would both ignite and spread. Research and operational experience in shrub fuels suggest that there is a clear difference between conditions that support ignition only (fuel ignites but does not spread beyond a single bush or clump) and conditions that are conducive to fire spread (fuel ignites and develops into a spreading fire). It is important for fire management agencies to be equipped with knowledge of these thresholds, because the different conditions require different levels of preparedness and response. Results indicate that the major variable influencing both fire ignition and fire spread development in gorse is the moisture content of the elevated dead fine fuel layer. Fires were observed to spread successfully in this elevated fuel layer only, independently of the surface fuels and the near-surface fuels. Elevated dead fuels failed to ignite at a moisture content of greater than 36%, and ignition only resulted in a spreading fire at moisture contents below 19%. The results correlate well with field observations and fire practitioners’ experience in these fuels, and provide reliable guidelines for fire management planning.

Additional keywords: fire behaviour, fuel moisture content, shrubland.


Acknowledgements

Thanks are extended to the landowner of the Pines Beach study site, Ansell Moore, for allowing this research to be carried out on his property. We are indebted to the fire agencies that provided in-kind support for the field experiments, without which this research could not have taken place (Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury, Pines Beach/Kairaki Volunteer Rural Fire Force, City Care Fire Team, Waimakariri District Council). Fraser Townsend and Kelsy Gibos provided valuable technical support during and after the field experiments. Comments on an earlier version of this manuscript by Grant Pearce (Scion) and Euan Mason (University of Canterbury) are appreciated. Feedback from two anonymous reviewers is gratefully acknowledged. This research was funded by the Rural Fire Program (Contract C04X0403) within the Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (Natural Physical Hazards) Portfolio provided by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology in New Zealand.


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