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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): A. Carlos Fernandez-Pello
Publication Date: 2017

Wildland and Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fires are an important problem in many areas of the world and may have major consequences in terms of safety, air quality, and damage to buildings, infrastructure, and the ecosystem. It is expected that with climate changes the wildland fire and WUI fire problem will only intensify. The spot fire ignition of a wildland fire by hot (solid, molten or burning) metal fragments/sparks and firebrands (flaming or glowing embers) is an important fire ignition pathway by which wildfires, WUI fires, and fires in industrial settings are started and may propagate. There are numerous cases reported of wildfires started by hot metal particles from clashing power-lines, or generated by machines, grinding and welding. Once the wildfire or structural fire has been ignited and grows, it can spread rapidly through ember spotting, where pieces of burning material (e.g. branches, bark, building materials, etc.) are lofted by the plume of the fire and then transported forward by the wind landing where they can start spot fires downwind. The spot fire problem can be separated in several individual processes: the generation of the particles (metal or firebrand) and their thermochemical state; their flight by plume lofting and wind drag and the particle thermo-chemical change during the flight; the onset of ignition (smoldering or flaming) of the fuel after the particle lands on the fuel; and finally, the sustained ignition and burning of the combustible material. Here an attempt has been made to summarize the state of the art of the wildfire spotting problem by describing the distinct individual processes involved in the problem and by discussing their know-how status. Emphasis is given to those areas that the author is more familiar with, due to his work on the subject. By characterizing these distinct individual processes, it is possible to attain the required information to develop predictive, physics-base wildfire spotting models. Such spotting models, together with topographical maps and wind models, could be added to existing flame spread models to improve the predictive capabilities of landscape-scale wildland fire spread models. These enhanced wildland fire spread models would provide land managers and government agencies with better tools to prescribe preventive measures and fuels treatments before a fire, and allocate suppression resources and issue evacuation orders during a fire.

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Citation: Fernandez-Pello, A. Carlos. 2017. Wildland fire spot ignition by sparks and firebrands. Fire Safety Journal 91:2-10.

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  • firebrands
  • ignitions
  • spot fires
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Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 25616