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Radiant heating rapidly increases litter flammability through impacts on fuel moisture

Author(s): Jesse K. Kreye, Jeffrey M. Kane, J. Morgan Varner, J. Kevin Hiers
Year Published: 2020

Background: Litter is the predominant fuel that drives surface fire behavior in most fire-prone forest and woodland ecosystems. The flammability of litter is driven by fuel characteristics, environmental factors, and the interactive effects of the two. Solar radiation can influence litter flammability through its effect on fuel moisture and temperature. The direct influence of radiative heating on flammability, however, is poorly understood and the interactive effects of forest structure, composition, fuels, and micrometeorology may have fine-scale ecological consequences in fire-dependent ecosystems.

Results: In this study, we measured laboratory flammability of two dominant southeastern USA litter fuels—Pinus palustris Mill. and Quercus stellata Wangenh.—and evaluated the interactive effects of fuel moisture and infrared radiation. Heating of litter fuels increased their flammability primarily through enhanced litter drying. Heated litter quickly became more flammable than unheated litter when fuels were undergoing drying after saturation, a result of more rapid moisture loss. Litter mass did not change the effect of heating on drying rates, but heavier fuels burned with greater flammability.

Conclusions: Interactions among surface fuels, overstory structure, and solar heating may be important in understanding fine-scale heterogeneity in both fire behavior and effects, with strong implications toward increasing the effectiveness of prescribed burning.

Citation: Kreye JK, Kane JM, Varner JM, and Hiers JK. 2020. Radiant heating rapidly increases litter flammability through impacts on fuel moisture. Fire Ecology 16:8. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-020-0067-3
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 20768
Record updated: Mar 9, 2020