USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
333 SW First Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

US Forest Service

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Home > Research > Fire > Fire Behavior

» Understand Fire Behavior

Understanding where and how a wildfire is likely to burn saves lives and money, and allows decisionmakers to strategically place fuel-reduction treatments in areas where they are most likely to modify fire behavior.

Fire behavior is influenced by weather, the amount and type of available fuel, and topography. These factors determine the intensity of the fire, how fast it will move, and in what direction. A dense, dry stand where dead branches litter the ground and vegetation and small trees create a continuous ladder of woody vegetation to the upper canopy will burn differently than a dry stand where mechanical thinning or a controlled, prescribed burn has reduced the amount of available fuel.

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest Research Station study different aspects of fire behavior. The information and tools based on this research are being used locally, nationally, and internationally to protect public health and manage for fire-resilient landscapes.

Research Examples:


A researcher stands in burned stand.
(Photo by Julia Biermann)


Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS) v. 2.2

The Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS) was designed to build and catalog fuelbeds by using inventoried fuel data, photo series, or literature. Fuelbeds span the canopy to the ground and have been mapped for the continental United States. The system predicts surface fire behavior including reaction intensity, flame length, and rate of spread; and surface fire behavior, crown fire, and available fuel potential using a 9-point index. Version 2.2 was released in 2011 with refined fire behavior equations, a total carbon calculator, and options for both metric and English units. Station scientists are working with the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and the University of Alcala, Spain, to build FCCS fuelbeds representing Portugal and the world.

The FCCS is used to build and characterize fuels for specified areas at any scale of interest. FCCS fuelbeds have been created for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, central Oregon, the Lake Tahoe Basin, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. The associated fire behavior predictions and total carbon represented by the fuelbeds for these areas also have been mapped. This information is being used for fire hazard planning and evaluating fuels treatment effectiveness.

How to get it:



Consume v. 3.0 predicts fuel consumption, pollutant emissions, and heat release

Consume v. 3.0 is software designed to assist resource managers in planning for prescribed fire and wildfire. This latest version reflects an improved understanding of fuel consumption and emissions in wildland fire across major fuel types in the United States. Consume predicts fuel consumption, pollutant emissions, and heat release based on a number of factors, including fuel loadings, fuel moisture, and other environmental factors. Using these predictions, resource managers can determine when and where to conduct a prescribed burn or plan for a wildland fire to achieve desired objectives, while reducing the impact on other resources.


Digital Fuels Photo Series

The Digital Photo Series is an electronic version of the popular natural fuels photo series. It allows users to assess to assess landscape conditions by appraising live and dead fuels and stand characteristics. This information can them be used in strategic planning, project implementation, and modeling efforts. Although designed for online use, this photo series can also be run from the computer desktop when an Internet connection is unavailable. The application is robust and flexible, allowing for additions of other published photo series or photo-accompanied fuel data.







US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,05August2014 at09:40:54CDT

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