Ignition Thresholds for Grassland Fuels and Implications for Activity Controls on Public Conservation Land in Canterbury.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Forestry Science
Grassland fuels quickly respond to moisture changes in the environment, and successfully ignite more readily compared with other wildland fuel types. In recent years in New Zealand grasslands, wildfire ignitions have increased due to recreational activities on public conservation land. Ignition sources have included off-road vehicles, sparks from machinery, and campfires, cooking stoves, etc. This research investigated ignition thresholds for fully cured tussock (Festuca novae-zelandiae) and exotic (Agrostis capillaris) grasses, with the aim of providing a scientific basis for wildfire prevention through decision-support tools for activity controls. Five ignition sources of concern to the Department of Conservation were tested in the laboratory, and results were validated against field experiments. Experiments were innovative, and were designed to simulate ignitions from: hot exhaust systems on off-road vehicles (hot metal); sparks from vehicle exhausts (carbon emissions); grinding operations (metal sparks); smouldering debris dropped onto grass fuels from hot vehicle parts (organic embers); and ordinary cigarette lighters (open flame). Fuel moisture content (MC), and wind speed were varied, but ambient temperature and relative humidity were kept relatively constant in the laboratory. Logistic regression was used to analyse data for each ignition source, except organic embers because no ignitions occurred. Ignition thresholds were determined for a probability of ignition success of 50%, and all models were statistically significant. The thresholds are listed in terms of model accuracy for each experiment: open flame was 28% MC without wind, and 55% MC with light wind (1 m/s); metal sparks was 37% MC; hot metal, with a wind speed of 2 m/s and MC of 1%, was 398ºC hot metal temperature; and carbon emissions was 65% MC. The results represent a significant contribution to knowledge of the ignition behaviour of grassland fuels. Further research is required to verify and extend the results; but, initial findings provide a scientific basis for management, investigations of wildfire causes, and decisions around controls on recreational activities to protect highly sensitive ecosystems and natural areas from damaging wildfires.