Background: Litter is the predominant fuel that drives surface fire behavior in most fire-prone forest and woodland ecosystems. The flammability of litter is driven by fuel characteristics, environmental factors, and the interactive effects of the two. Solar radiation can influence litter flammability through its effect on fuel moisture and temperature. The direct influence of radiative heating on flammability, however, is poorly understood and the interactive effects of forest structure, composition, fuels, and micrometeorology may have fine-scale ecological consequences in fire-dependent ecosystems. Results: In this study, we measured laboratory flammability of two dominant southeastern USA litter fuels—Pinus palustris Mill. and Quercus stellata Wangenh.—and evaluated the interactive effects of fuel moisture and infrared radiation. Heating of litter fuels increased their flammability primarily through enhanced litter drying. Heated litter quickly became more flammable than unheated litter when fuels were undergoing drying after saturation, a result of more rapid moisture loss. Litter mass did not change the effect of heating on drying rates, but heavier fuels burned with greater flammability. Conclusions: Interactions among surface fuels, overstory structure, and solar heating may be important in understanding fine-scale heterogeneity in both fire behavior and effects, with strong implications toward increasing the effectiveness of prescribed burning.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Environmental Science (miscellaneous)