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

» Understanding 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:


Seedlings grow amid remains of a burned log.
A controlled burn allowed researchers to gather data on fire behavior, fire effects, and smoke chemistry and dynamics. This information will be used to test, evaluate, and validate next-generation fire models. Photo by Roger Ottmar


Fuel and Fire Tools

Fuels and Fire Tools is a software application that integrates stand-alone versions of the Fuel Characteristic Classification System, Consume, Fire Emission Production Simulator, and the Pile Calculator. No specific operating system is required. The system allows users to develop fuelbeds and predict fire behavior, fuel consumption, and rate of heat release during wildland fires.

How to get it: Download from



Fuel Characteristic Classification System 3.0

The Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS) calculates and classifies fuelbed characteristics and their potential fire behavior. Users may access fuelbeds from a fuelbed library or create their own custom fuelbeds. FCCS fuelbeds represent fuels throughout much of North America and were compiled from published literature, fuels photo series, other fuels data sets and expert opinion. FCCS fuelbeds have been mapped in LANDFIRE and are preloaded in the Fuel and Fire Tools application. Regional fuelbed datasets representing a range of vegetation types and management scenarios for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (WA), central Oregon, northeastern Oregon and Lake Tahoe (CA) are available. Users can customize FCCS fuelbeds to create a set of fuelbeds representing any scale of interest.

How to get it: Download from


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.



Safe Separation Distance


Safe Separation Distance provides recommended fire-safe separation distance between a person and a fire in the presence of a given terrain slope and a range of wind speeds. It is rule based but was developed from physics-based computer simulations. This preliminary safety zone rule was released in July 2014 for the upcoming fire season. An update is expected next year. This effort was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program.

Provides an extra margin of safety for all wildland fire personnel.


How to get it:

William Mell






US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Monday,14September2015 at15:18:13CDT

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