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Fuel Mapping And Fire Physics

Deliver new insights into forest fuels and how they burn—to more accurately forecast fire behavior

Current fire behavior models make predictions based on conditions that no longer exist

Over the last several years, in an increasingly hot and dry climate, we’ve seen wildfires behave in unprecedented ways, burning with great intensity and spreading with enormous speed.
Most fire behavior models were developed in the 1970s, when there was far less fuel in California’s forests and most wildfires consumed a thin layer of leaves and needles on the forest floor. Since then aggressive fire suppression efforts, combined with severe drought that has killed millions of trees, have left forests filled with trees and branches—heavy fuels that allow fires to grow far more intense than in previous decades. 
Current fire behavior models do not account for these new conditions. 
In addition, too little is understood about the physics of how wildfires burn, including how much heat is released, what gases are emitted, and the effects of weather (especially wind and moisture) in the transition from smoldering to flaming combustion. 
All of these conditions converge to make current models inadequate in predicting fire behavior. 
Snag dynamics and surface fuel loads in the Sierra Nevada: Predicting the impact of the 2012–2016 drought
Graphs, video, and text detail results of experiments using large-scale burn chamber

Tree Mortality and Fuels Summary Report

Map fuels and deliver insight into the physics of wildfire, to improve fire behavior forecasting

Our Fire Science team is delivering critical insight into how much fuel is in California’s forests, where it’s situated, and how it will burn. 
Our scientists are creating a new fuel measurement and mapping system to better understand the amount, types, and distribution of fuels, both now and over the next 10–20 years. They’re also conducting laboratory experiments to determine the burn rates of different sizes and types of fuels across a range of weather conditions.


As a result of the work done by the Fuel Mapping and Fire Physics Team, we will have fundamentally transform our understanding of the inputs needed to accurately forecast fire behavior.

Goals of the Fire Science Team


We developed guidance for a protocol for sampling forest fuels and integrating them into a thematic map.

We’re analyzing fuels over a 20-year cycle in areas of elevated tree mortality. Additionally, we are mapping fuels—using satellite imagery and aerial LiDAR, combined with field measurements—to characterize vegetation types and the amount, size, depth, and nature of fuels in granular detail.


The small-scale burn chamber experiments will determine what speed of wind and level of moisture are necessary to allow transition from smoldering to flaming combustion. 

The first-of-its-kind large-scale burn chamber will replicate the fuel beds in California’s forests; these fuels will be burned while controlling wind and moisture levels.


Map Fuels

Fuel Measurement Mapping Protocol​
Methodology will show how to sample forest fuels and integrate these samples into a thematic map
Tree Mortality and Fuels Summary Report
Report will evaluate increased fire risk from elevated tree mortality and surface fuel buildup over 20 years
High-Resolution Tree Mortality Map
Map will show current distribution of tree mortality across California
Fuel Load Projection Dataset
Report will make recommendations for improving the weather station network, and evaluate costs of new installations

Conduct Burn Chamber Experiments

Fuel Measurement Mapping Protocol​
Graphs, video, and text detail results of experiments using small-scale burn chamber
Large-Scale Burn
Chamber Research

Graphs, video, and text detail results of experiments using large-scale burn chamber