The relative importance of fuels and weather on fire behavior in subalpine forests
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Wayne C. Bessie; Edward A. Johnson
Publication Year: 1995

Cataloging Information

  • Abies lasiocarpa
  • Alberta
  • Canada
  • coniferous forests
  • crown fire initiation
  • crown fires
  • distribution
  • Engelmann spruce
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fuel accumulation
  • fuel inventory
  • fuel loading
  • fuel moisture
  • lodgepole pine
  • moisture
  • Picea engelmannii
  • pine forests
  • Pinus contorta
  • Populus tremuloides
  • Rothermel's fire behavior model
  • subalpine fir
  • subalpine forests
  • surface fire intensity
  • trembling aspen
  • Van Wagner's crown fire model
  • wind
Partner Site(s):
  • Southwest FireCLIME
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: February 29, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 35619
Tall Timbers Record Number: 9930
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Journals-E
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Annotated Bibliography

This document is part of the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography, which includes published research related to the interactions between climate change, wildfire, and subsequent ecosystem effects in the southwestern U.S. The publications contained in the Bibliography have each been summarized to distill the outcomes as they pertain to fire and climate. Go to this document's record in the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography.


Surface fire intensity (kilowatts per metre) and crown fire initiation were predicted using Rothermel's 1972 and Van Wagner's 1977 fire models with fuel data from 47 upland subalpine conifer stands (comprising Pinus contorta var. latifolia, Picea engelmannii, Abies lasiocarpa and some Populus tremuloides) in Alberta, Canada, varying in age from 22-258 yr and 35 yr of daily weather data (fuel moisture and wind speeds). Rothermel's intensity model was divided into a fuel component variable and weather component variable, which were then used to examine the relative roles of fuel and weather on surface fire intensity. Similar variables were defined in the crown fire initiation model of Van Wagner. Both surface fire intensity and crown fire initiation were strongly related to the weather components and weakly related to the fuel components, due to much greater variability in weather than fuel, and stronger relationship to the fire behavior mechanisms for weather than for fuel. Fire intensity was correlated to annual area burned; large area burned years had higher fire intensity predictions than smaller area burned years. The reason for this difference was attributed directly to the weather variable frequency distribution, which was shifted towards more extreme values in years in which large areas burned. During extreme weather conditions, the relative importance of fuels diminishes since all stands achieve the threshold required to permit crown fire development. This is important since most of the area burned in subalpine forests has historically occurred during very extreme weather conditions (i.e., drought coupled to high winds). Fire behavior relationships predicted in the models support the concept that forest fire behavior is determined primarily by weather variation among years rather than fuel variation associated with stand age.

Online Link(s):
Bessie, Wayne C.; Johnson, Edward A. 1995. The relative importance of fuels and weather on fire behavior in subalpine forests. Ecology 76(3):747-762.