Fuel moisture and development of ignition and fire spread thresholds in gorse (Ulex europaeus)
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Forestry Science
Shrub fuels are capable of extreme fire behaviour under conditions that are often moderate in other fuels. There is also a narrow range of conditions that determine fire success in these fuels, below which fires may ignite but hardly spread and above which they ignite and develop into fast moving and high intensity fires. This is due to the elevated dead fine fuels that dry rapidly and carry fire. Fire danger rating systems designed for forest and grassland fuels do not predict fire potential in shrub fuels very well. Fire management requires fire danger rating systems to provide accurate and timely information on fire potential for all important fuel types.
Studies of fuel moisture, ignition and fire spread were carried out in the field in gorse (Ulex europaeus L.) shrub fuels to predict the moisture content of the elevated dead fuels and to define the conditions that govern fire development. The accuracy of the Fine Fuel Moisture Code (FFMC) of the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index (FWI) System to predict moisture content of this layer was assessed. A bookkeeping method to predict moisture content was developed based on semi-physical models of equilibrium moisture content, fuel response time and the FFMC.
The FFMC predicted moisture content poorly, because the FWI System is based on the litter layer of a mature conifer forest. The gorse elevated dead fuel layer is more aerated and dries faster than this conifer forest litter layer. The bookkeeping method was reliable and allowed adjustment of fuel response time based on weather conditions. Difficulties in modelling meteorological conditions under the gorse canopy limited its accuracy. Separate thresholds determined ignition and fire spread success, with both based on the elevated dead fuel moisture content. Options to improve the shrub fire danger rating system were presented based on these findings.
The results are significant because they are based on data collected in the field under real conditions. Validation of these results and extension to other shrub fuels is required before the findings are used to change current models. However, the study has significantly advanced the knowledge of fire behaviour in shrub fuels and will contribute to safe and effective fire management in these fuels.