Crown Fire Initiation and Propagation

  1. Introduction
  2. Crown Fire Initiation
  3. Active Crown Fire Propagation and Crowning Index (CI)
  4. Finney, Scott/Reinhardt, and Van Wagner Approaches to Crown Fire Modeling

Introduction

In the publication “Conditions for the start and spread of crown fire”, C.E. Van Wagner (1977) identified that crown fire is the interaction between separate fuel layers in forested areas.

Further, he described two processes and defined models for estimating their potential:

  • Crown Fire Initiation is an indicator of the potential for surface fire to ignite tree crown and produce either passive or active crown fire. Inputs include the gap between the surface fuels and the tree crowns (Canopy Base Height – CBH), the foliar moisture content (FMC) of the tree crowns. The result is a threshold surface fire intensity required to produce some crown fire.
  • Active Crown Fire Propagation (Crown Spread) is an indicator of the potential for continuous spread through the tree crowns. Inputs include only a characterization of the canopy fuel density in a single number. The result is a threshold rate of spread required to sustain a “solid crown flame…with associated horizontal spread.”

These models are very coarse due to the way they represent highly variable characteristics, canopy base height and canopy fuel density. Because they are so variable, their inputs represent grand averages and may require adjustment in modeling efforts.

As shown in this matrix, the Crown Fire Initiation and Active Crown Fire Propagation models work together to estimate when fires will remain as surface, when they will produce torching, or passive crown fire, behavior in the canopy, and when they will progress to active crown fires.

Linking Surface and Crown Fire Behavior

(Scott & Reinhardt, 2001)

Linking Surface and Crown Fire Behavior. Essentially describes criteria for distinguishing the range of fire behavior types where forest canopies are flammable.

Use the model results from sections Crown Fire Initiation and Crown Fire Propagation to compare against estimates of surface and crown fire spread produced using anticipated environmental factors.

Crown Fire Initiation

These two graphs identify the height to live crowns (CBH) and the canopy foliar moisture content (FMC) as critical factors, resulting in the threshold surface fire intensity or flame length for evaluating of crown fire initiation. Use either of them to estimate minimum surface fireline intensity (FLI) or flame length (FL) that will support at least passive crown fire.

Threshold Evaluation

Use either of the two graphs below. This assessment only determines whether surface fire behavior is sufficient to initiate crown combustion. Both passive and active crown fire are possible if this threshold is met. See the criteria for active crown fire above under Linking Surface and Crown Fire Behavior to differentiate those conditions.

  • Determine the current and/or expected surface intensity (FLI or FL) for that landscape.
  • Estimate the CBH and FMC for the landscape you are evaluating for crown fire potential.
  • Lookup the threshold surface intensity from either graph here.
  • Compare the two intensities. If the projected intensity is greater than the threshold value, crown fire is expected. A ratio of projected over threshold provides a confidence value.

 Crown Fire Initiation; characterized as threshold surface fire intensity. Input factors are canopy base height and foliar moisture content.

 Crown Fire Initiation; characterized as threshold surface flame length. Input factors are canopy base height and foliar moisture content.

Active Crown Fire Propagation and Crowning Index (CI)

According to Van Wagner (1977), minimum threshold values for canopy fuel/bulk density (CBD) are necessary to sustain active crown fire at given spread rates. Since there is only a single crown fire fuel model, that threshold spread rate can be converted to a threshold windspeed or “crowning index” (CI).

Threshold Evaluation

The table and the graph below it provide threshold values for both ROS(active) and open 20 ft windspeed.

For a given CBD, if observed, or forecast 20 ft wind or projected ROS(active) are larger than these threshold values, sustained active crown fire is expected. A ratio of estimate/threshold provides a confidence value.

Threshold for Active Crown Fire. Characterized as the crown fire spread rate needed to sustain an active crown fire, the inputs are canopy bulk density and season severity.

Crowning Index: Because there is only one crown fire ‘fuel Model’ wind is the primary environmental factor for determining the threshold.

Finney, Scott/Reinhardt, and Van Wagner Approaches to Crown Fire Modeling

All approaches identify the threshold for predicting crown fire initiation and active crown fire spread using the same criteria, based on the Van Wagner Crown Fire Initiation and Propagation models. They diverge in the way they estimate:

  • Final spread rates for passive and active crown fire.
  • Crown Fraction Burned (CFB).
  • Final Fireline Intensity.
  • Fire Type (Surface, Passive, Active).

Both US and CFFDRS systems implement the initiation and active crown fire criteria where crown fire is anticipated. This table compare the different ways the criteria are implemented.

Model UsedCFFBP Van Wagner (1977) Modeling SystemSurface Fire Control Finney (1998) Modeling SystemCrown Fire Control Scott and Reinhardt (2001) Modeling System
Surface FireVan Wagner (1977) Integrated, empirical modelRothermel (1972)Rothermel (1972)
Crown Fire SpreadVan Wagner (1977) Integrated, empirical modelRothermel (1991)Rothermel (1991)
Crown Fire (Torching) Initiation Threshold Spread RateVan Wagner (1977)Van Wagner (1977)Van Wagner (1977)
Active Crown Fire Propagation Threshold Spread RateVan Wagner (1977)Van Wagner (1977)Van Wagner (1977)
Methods AppliedCFFBP Van Wagner (1977)Surface Fire Control Finney (1998)Crown Fire Control Scott and Reinhardt (2001)
Crown Fraction BurnedNatural Log function based on the difference between estimated spread rate and Initiation Threshold spread rate. 90% when estimated spread rate is 10m/min greater than Initiation Threshold spread rate.Natural log function based on the difference between the estimated surface spread rate and the Initiation Threshold rate. 0.9 when surface spread rate reaches 90% of difference between Initiation Threshold and Active Propagation threshold.Proportionally intermediate between 0 (surface fire) and 1.0 (active Crown Fire) based on input windspeed and where it falls between windspeeds at Initiation Threshold and Active Propagation Threshold spread rates.
Passive Crown Fire SpreadIntegrated within basic spread model for conifer & mixedwood fuel types. Fire type designated as Passive based on estimated Crown fraction Burned (see below).Surface Fire spread rate plus any spotting spread.Based on Crown Fraction Burned (CFB). Proportionally intermediate between surface spread rate and Active Propagation threshold, based on crown fraction burned plus any spotting spread.
Final Spread Rate with Active Crown FireIntegrated within basic spread model for conifer & mixedwood fuel types Fire type designated as Passive based on estimated Crown fraction Burned (see below).Proportionally intermediate between surface spread rate and Rothermel 1991 Model based on Crown Fraction Burned. Generally, less than half of Rothermel model rate.Spread Rate estimated directly from Rothermel 1991 crown fire spread model.
Fire IntensityByram (1959)Byram (1959) for Surface
Thomas (1963) for Crown
Byram (1959) for Surface
Thomas (1963) for Crown
Fire Type:
Surface
Passive
Active
Based on Crown Fraction Burned
<0.1 = surface
0.1 to <0.9 = passive
.9 to 1.0 = active
Based on Crown Fire Initiation and Propagation thresholds (see above)
Surface if ROS < Init. Criteria
Active if ROS > Active Crit.
Passive Between
Based on Crown Fire Initiation and Propagation thresholds (see above)
Surface if ROS < Init. Criteria
Active if ROS > Active Crit.
Passive Between

 

 

Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
2019-04-11