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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Mark A. Finney; Jack D. Cohen; Sara S. McAllister; W. Matt Jolly
Publication Date: 2013

We explore the basis of understanding wildland fire behaviour with the intention of stimulating curiosity and promoting fundamental investigations of fire spread problems that persist even in the presence of tremendous modelling advances. Internationally, many fire models have been developed based on a variety of assumptions and expressions for the fundamental heat transfer and combustion processes. The diversity of these assumptions raises the question as to whether the absence of a sound and coherent fire spread theory is partly responsible. We explore the thesis that, without a common understanding of what processes occur and how they occur, model reliability cannot be confirmed. A theory is defined as a collection of logically connected hypotheses that provide a coherent explanation of some aspect of reality. Models implement theory for a particular purpose, including hypotheses of phenomena and practical uses, such as prediction. We emphasise the need for theory and demonstrate the difference between theory and modelling. Increasingly sophisticated fire management requires modelling capabilities well beyond the fundamental basis of current models. These capabilities can only be met with fundamental fire behaviour research. Furthermore, possibilities as well as limitations for modelling may not be known or knowable without first having the theory.

Online Links
Citation: Finney, Mark A.; Cohen, Jack D.; McAllister, Sara S.; Jolly, W. Matt. 2013. On the need for a theory of wildland fire spread. International Journal of Wildland Fire 22(1):25-36.

Cataloging Information

Fire Behavior    Fire Ecology    Fuels    Models
Alaska    California    Eastern    Great Basin    Hawaii    Northern Rockies    Northwest    Rocky Mountain    Southern    Southwest    National
  • convection
  • dead fuels
  • fine fuels
  • fire management
  • fire modelling
  • fire spread
  • flame length
  • fuel ignition
  • fuel management
  • fuel moisture
  • heat
  • heat transfer
  • leaves
  • live fuels
  • live fuels
  • moisture content
  • rate of spread
  • statistical analysis
  • wildfires
Tall Timbers Record Number: 28539Location Status: In-fileCall Number: Journals - IAbstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 51620

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by Tall Timbers 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 Tall Timbers.