Examining fuel treatment longevity through experimental and simulated surface fire behaviour: a maritime pine case study

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The adequate prediction of fire behaviour characteristics for both scientific and management objectives is greatly impacted by the performance of fire behaviour models. Lack of experimentation and limitations in fire behaviour models are constraining our current understanding of fuel treatment effectiveness and longevity. The residual effect of a 10-year old prescribed fire treatment is quantified by simulating and observing actual real-world fire behaviour in treated (T10) and untreated (U25) fuel complexes in a 25-year old maritime pine stand in Portugal. Fire behaviour characteristics were measured in experimental surface fires (n=36) under a range of autumn to late spring weather conditions. Surface fire behaviour was simulated using the BehavePlus fire modelling system with custom fuel models for T10, T25 and U15, the untreated fuel-complex when the stand was 15-years old. The T10 fuel complex had significantly less decomposing litter load and shrub cover and load than U25. Observed rate of fire spread did not differ between fuel complexes after accounting for the effects of other environmental variables, but flame length in T10 was 25% lower than in U25. BehavePlus simulations contradicted the difference observed in flame length. Inconsistent and misleading assessments of fuel treatments effectiveness with detrimental impacts on the outcomes of fuel management may result from the generalized practice of solely using simulation modelling tools in lieu of experimental fire behaviour observations.
prescribed burning , fire behaviour , fuel management , fuel dynamics