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

The initiation of fire spread in shrubland fuels recreated in the laboratory

Matt P. Plucinski A D E , Wendy R. Anderson A , Ross A. Bradstock B and A. Malcolm Gill C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, University of New South Wales @ ADFA, Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia.

B Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, University of Wollongong, Northfields Road, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia.

C Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT 0200, Australia.

D Present address: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems and CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship,PO Box 284, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(4) 512-520
Submitted: 22 April 2009  Accepted: 28 October 2009   Published: 24 June 2010


Fire-prone shrub-dominated vegetation communities cover a considerable portion of Australia, including areas fringing urban development. Near urban interfaces, they are actively managed with prescribed fire to reduce the risk of wildfire (unplanned fire). Knowledge of the range of conditions that allow fires to spread or fail to do so is limited and can inconvenience fire managers when conducting prescribed burns. A series of experimental ignitions conducted in miniature shrublands reconstructed in the laboratory were used to investigate factors that influence ignition thresholds. The miniature shrublands were composed of foliage from the shrub Allocasuarina nana and were prepared over a range of moisture contents and densities. The impact of dead fuel within the aerial structure of the shrubs was also investigated, as was the presence and absence of wind and litter. The most important factors for spread initiation were identified using logistic regression analysis and classification tree modelling. The presence of litter, live fuel moisture content, shrub-layer density, presence of wind, and the amount and continuity of the dead elevated fuel were all found to influence spread sustainability. There was a negative interaction between shrub-layer density and live fuel moisture content, showing the effect of density to be less at higher moisture contents.

Additional keywords: dead elevated fuels, fire behaviour, fuel density, ignition thresholds, laboratory experiments.


We acknowledge the valuable technical assistance of Peter Moore. CSIRO Plant Industry generously provided the use of facilities at the Black Mountain Laboratories, Canberra. This project was part of an Australian Research Council and New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service-funded Strategic Partnerships with Industry-research and Training (SPIRT) scholarship investigating ignition and development of fire in shrublands. We also thank Dr PAM Fernandes and Dr MG Cruz and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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