Spotting ignition by lofted firebrands is a significant mechanism of fire spread, as observed in many large-scale fires. The role of firebrands in fire propagation and the important parameters involved in spot fire development are studied. Historical large-scale fires, including wind-driven urban and wildland conflagrations and post-earthquake fires are given as examples. In addition, research on firebrand behavior is reviewed. The phenomenon of spotting fires comprises three sequential mechanisms: generation, transport and ignition of recipient fuel. In order to understand these mechanisms, many experiments have been performed, such as measuring drag on firebrands, analyzing the flow fields of flame and plume structures, collecting firebrands from burning materials, houses and wildfires, and observing firebrand burning characteristics in wind tunnels under the terminal velocity condition and ignition characteristics of fuel beds. The knowledge obtained from the experiments was used to develop firebrand models. Since Tarifa developed a firebrand model based on the terminal velocity approximation, many firebrand transport models have been developed to predict maximum spot fire distance. Combustion models of a firebrand were developed empirically and the maximum spot fire distance was found at the burnout limit. Recommendations for future research and development are provided.
[This publication is referenced in the "Synthesis of knowledge of extreme fire behavior: volume I for fire managers" (Werth et al 2011).]