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On the need for a theory of wildland fire spread

Finney, Mark A.; Cohen, Jack D.; McAllister, Sara S.; Jolly, W. Matt. 2013. On the need for a theory of wildland fire spread. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 22: 25-36.


We explore the basis of understanding wildland fire behaviour with the intention of stimulating curiosity and promoting fundamental investigations of fire spread problems that persist even in the presence of tremendous modelling advances. Internationally, many fire models have been developed based on a variety of assumptions and expressions for the fundamental heat transfer and combustion processes. The diversity of these assumptions raises the question as to whether the absence of a sound and coherent fire spread theory is partly responsible. We explore the thesis that, without a common understanding of what processes occur and how they occur, model reliability cannot be confirmed. A theory is defined as a collection of logically connected hypotheses that provide a coherent explanation of some aspect of reality. Models implement theory for a particular purpose, including hypotheses of phenomena and practical uses, such as prediction. We emphasise the need for theory and demonstrate the difference between theory and modelling. Increasingly sophisticated fire management requires modelling capabilities well beyond the fundamental basis of current models. These capabilities can only be met with fundamental fire behaviour research. Furthermore, possibilities as well as limitations for modelling may not be known or knowable without first having the theory.

Keywords: fire behaviour, fuel ignition, heat transfer, live fuels

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Title: RMRS Other Publications: On the need for a theory of wildland fire spread
Electronic Publish Date: August 28, 2012
Last Update:
September 10, 2013

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