The initiation of fire spread in shrubland fuels recreated in the laboratory
Fire-prone shrub-dominated vegetation communities cover a considerable portion of Australia, including areas fringing urban development. Near urban interfaces, they are actively managed with prescribed fire to reduce the risk of wildfire (unplanned fire). Knowledge of the range of conditions that allow fires to spread or fail to do so is limited and can inconvenience fire managers when conducting prescribed burns. A series of experimental ignitions conducted in miniature shrublands reconstructed in the laboratory were used to investigate factors that influence ignition thresholds. The miniature shrublands were composed of foliage from the shrub Allocasuarina nana and were prepared over a range of moisture contents and densities. The impact of dead fuel within the aerial structure of the shrubs was also investigated, as was the presence and absence of wind and litter. The most important factors for spread initiation were identified using logistic regression analysis and classification tree modelling. The presence of litter, live fuel moisture content, shrub-layer density, presence of wind, and the amount and continuity of the dead elevated fuel were all found to influence spread sustainability. There was a negative interaction between shrub-layer density and live fuel moisture content, showing the effect of density to be less at higher moisture contents.