Assessment of crown fire initiation and spread models in Mediterranean conifer forests by using data from field and laboratory experiments

Francisco Rodríguez y Silva, Mercedes Guijarro, Javier Madrigal, Enrique Jiménez, Juan R. Molina, Carmen Hernando, Ricardo Vélez, Jose A. Vega


Aims of study: To conduct the first full-scale crown fire experiment carried out in a Mediterranean conifer stand in Spain; to use different data sources to assess crown fire initiation and spread models, and to evaluate the role of convection in crown fire initiation.

Area of study: The Sierra Morena mountains (Coordinates ETRS89 30N: X: 284793-285038; Y: 4218650-4218766), southern Spain, and the outdoor facilities of the Lourizán Forest Research Centre, northwestern Spain.

Material and methods: The full-scale crown fire experiment was conducted in a young Pinus pinea stand. Field data were compared with data predicted using the most used crown fire spread models. A small-scale experiment was developed with Pinus pinaster trees to evaluate the role of convection in crown fire initiation. Mass loss calorimeter tests were conducted with P. pinea needles to estimate residence time of the flame, which was used to validate the crown fire spread model.

Main results: The commonly used crown fire models underestimated the crown fire spread rate observed in the full-scale experiment, but the proposed new integrated approach yielded better fits. Without wind-forced convection, tree crowns did not ignite until flames from an intense surface fire contacted tree foliage. Bench-scale tests based on radiation heat flux therefore offer a limited insight to full-scale phenomena.

Research highlights: Existing crown fire behaviour models may underestimate the rate of spread of crown fires in many Mediterranean ecosystems. New bench-scale methods based on flame buoyancy and more crown field experiments allowing detailed measurements of fire behaviour are needed.


wildland fire; fire behaviour; Pinus pinea; small-scale experiment; bench-scale experiment; convection

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DOI: 10.5424/fs/2017262-10652