Neighborhood-scale fire spread
Document Type: Conference Paper
Author(s): Ronald G. Rehm; David Evans; Kevin B. McGrattan; Glenn P. Forney; Charles Bouldin; Elisa Baker; William E. Mell; Simo Hostikka
Publication Year: 2003

Cataloging Information

  • aerosols
  • combustion
  • computer networks
  • computer programs
  • distribution
  • elevation
  • fine fuels
  • fire growth
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fire protection
  • firefighting personnel
  • fuel loading
  • fuel management
  • fuel types
  • herbaceous vegetation
  • ignition
  • JFSP - Joint Fire Science Program
  • leaves
  • litter
  • needles
  • overstory
  • physics
  • plant physiology
  • rate of spread
  • shrubs
  • smoke behavior
  • smoke effects
  • smoke management
  • statistical analysis
  • topography
  • trees
  • understory vegetation
  • wildfires
  • wildland fuels
  • wind
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: April 18, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 41556
Tall Timbers Record Number: 16480
TTRS Location Status: In-file
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.


This talk describes development of a physics-based mathematical and computational model to predict fire spread among structures and natural fuels (trees, shrubs and ground litter). This tool will be used to understand how fires spread in a community where both structures and natural fuels coexist, to help train fire fighters and to quantify the benefits of mitigation actions. No such model currently exists. There is an increasing awareness among fire fighters, community action groups and community planners of the need for such a model. This 'neighborhood-scale' model can use detailed data on the topography, local meteorology, building layouts and elevations, three-dimensional distributions of natural fuels, and the material properties of both the natural fuels and the structures. Nearly 10 % of the land and over one-third of the homes in the U.S. today belong to the Wildland/Urban interface (WUI), and these fractions are increasing rapidly. Fires in the WUI setting have also been increasing rapidly, becoming a national (as well as an international) problem. Models of the WUI fires must include the long-duration, high-intensity burning characteristics of structures as well as the burning characteristics of vegetation. Over the past 25 years, the Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been developing a physics-based mathematical and computational model, known as the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS), to predict fire spread in a structure. This model is available free over the Web (, is well regarded and is widely used by fire protection engineers around the world. BFRL has recently extended the model to include fire spread from structure to structure and is now generalizing FDS to include prediction of fire spread in both continuous and discrete natural fuels. The current model, as well as its generalization, is both computationally and data intensive, requiring for any specified region, high-resolution, three-dimensional data of the quantities mentioned above. This talk will describe the physics and the computational methodology used in the model, the data and computational resources needed, and some results. Simulation of fire spread on a single plot of land (with one or two structures, trees, shrubs and combustible ground litter such as pine needles or leaves) will be shown, as well as fire spread in a small neighborhood, including several structures and wildland fuels. See the attached figure, which shows fire and smoke growth and spread computed in such a simulation. The model includes most of the mechanisms for fire spread at these length scales (fire spread by brands is not included). For these simulations to be predictive, fire spread from one fuel element (structure, tree or shrub) to another must be compared with data, although such data generally does not exist. Some implications on fire spread of the fact that structures have a much greater fuel load and a much longer ignition time than wildland fuels will be discussed. For example, entrainment of air by the plumes from multiple, fully involved, burning structures can substantially change the wind patterns and therefore the spread of the fire front at some distance from the structures.

Online Link(s):
Rehm, R., D. Evans, K. McGrattan, G. Forney, C. Bouldin, E. Baker, W. Mell, and S. Hostikka. 2003. Neighborhood-scale fire spread, Second International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress and Fifth Symposium on Fire and Forest Meteorology, 16-20 November 2003, Orlando, FL [program volume and electronic resource]. American Meteorological Society,Boston, MA. p. 157-158,