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

Assessing the effect of foliar moisture on the spread rate of crown fires

Martin E. Alexander A and Miguel G. Cruz B C

A University of Alberta, Department of Renewable Resources and Alberta School of Forest Science and Management, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2H1, Canada.

B Bushfire Dynamics and Applications Team, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences and Climate Adaptation Flagship, GPO Box 1700, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: miguel.cruz@csiro.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 22(4) 415-427 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF12008
Submitted: 12 January 2012  Accepted: 6 October 2012   Published: 23 November 2012

Abstract

This paper constitutes a digest and critique of the currently available information pertaining to the influence of live fuel or foliar moisture content (FMC) on the spread rate of crown fires in conifer forests and shrublands. We review and discuss the findings from laboratory experiments and field-based fire behaviour studies. Laboratory experimentation with single needles or leaves and small conifer trees has shown an unequivocal effect of FMC on flammability metrics. A much less discernible effect of FMC on crown fire rate of spread was found in the existing set of experimental crown fires carried out in conifer forests and similarly with the far more robust database of experimental fires conducted in shrubland fuel complexes. The high convective and radiant heat fluxes associated with these fires and the lack of appropriate experimental design may have served to mask any effect of FMC or live fuel moisture on the resulting spread rate. Four theoretical functions and one empirical function used to adjust rate of fire spread for the effect of foliar or live fuel moisture were also concurrently examined for their validity over a wide range of FMC conditions with varying outcomes and relevancy. None of these model functions was found suitable for use with respect to dead canopy foliage.

Additional keywords: conifer forest, crowning, dead foliage, fire behaviour, flammability, foliar moisture content, fuel moisture, heat transfer, live fuel moisture, shrubland.


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