Linking complex forest fuel structure and fire behavior at fine scales
Improved fire management of savannas and open woodlands requires better understanding of the fundamental connection between fuel heterogeneity, variation in fire behaviour and the influence of fire variation on vegetation feedbacks. In this study, we introduce a novel approach to predicting fire behaviour at the submetre scale, including measurements of forest understorey fuels using ground-based LIDAR (light detection and ranging) coupled with infrared thermography for recording precise fire temperatures. We used ensemble classification and regression trees to examine the relationships between fuel characteristics and fire temperature dynamics. Fire behaviour was best predicted by characterising fuelbed heterogeneity and continuity across multiple plots of similar fire intensity, where impacts from plot-to-plot variation in fuel, fire and weather did not overwhelm the effects of fuels. The individual plot-level results revealed the significance of specific fuel types (e.g. bare soil, pine leaf litter) as well as the spatial configuration of fire. This was the first known study to link the importance of fuelbed continuity and the heterogeneity associated with fuel types to fire behaviour at metre to submetre scales and provides the next step in understanding the complex responses of vegetation to fire behaviour.