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Vertical and Horizontal Crown Fuel Continuity Influences Group-Scale Ignition and Fuel Consumption

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A deeper understanding of the influence of fine-scale fuel patterns on fire behavior is essential to the design of forest treatments that aim to reduce fire hazard, enhance structural complexity, and increase ecosystem function and resilience. Of particular relevance is the impact of horizontal and vertical forest structure on potential tree torching and large-tree mortality. It may be the case that fire behavior in spatially complex stands differs from predictions based on stand-level descriptors of the fuel distribution and structure. In this work, we used a spatially explicit fire behavior model to evaluate how the vertical and horizontal distribution of fuels influences the potential for fire to travel from the surface into overstory tree crowns. Our results support the understanding that crown fuels (e.g., needles and small-diameter branchwood) close to the surface can aid in this transition; however, we add important nuance by showing the interactive effect of overstory horizontal fuel connectivity. The influence of fuels low in the canopy space was overridden by the effect of horizontal connectivity at surface fire-line intensities greater than 1415 kW/m. For example, tree groups with vertically continuous fuels and limited horizontal connectivity sustained less large-tree consumption than tree groups with a significant vertical gap between the surface and canopy but high-canopy horizontal connectivity. This effect was likely the result of reduced net vertical heat transfer as well as decreased horizontal heat transfer, or crown-to-crown spread, in the upper canopy. These results suggest that the crown fire hazard represented by vertically complex tree groups is strongly mediated by the density, or horizontal connectivity, of the tree crowns within the group, and therefore, managers may be able to mitigate some of the torching hazard associated with vertically heterogenous tree groups.

S.M. Ritter; C.M. Hoffman; M.A. Battaglia; R. Linn; W.E. Mell

Ritter SM, Hoffman CM, Battaglia MA, Linn R, Mell WE. Vertical and Horizontal Crown Fuel Continuity Influences Group-Scale Ignition and Fuel Consumption. Fire. 2023 ;6(8).

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