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Effects of canopy midstory management and fuel moisture on wildfire behavior


Increasing trends in wildfire severity can partly be attributed to fire exclusion in the past century which led to higher fuel accumulation. Mechanical thinning and prescribed burns are effective techniques to manage fuel loads and to establish a higher degree of control over future fire risk, while restoring fire prone landscapes to their natural states of succession. However, given the complexity of interactions between fine scale fuel heterogeneity and wind, it is difficult to assess the success of thinning operations and prescribed burns. The present work addresses this issue systematically by simulating a simple fire line and propagating through a vegetative environment where the midstory has been cleared in different degrees, leading to a canopy with almost no midstory, another with a sparse midstory and another with a dense midstory. The simulations are conducted for these three canopies under two different conditions, where the fuel moisture is high and where it is low. These six sets of simulations show widely different fire behavior, in terms of fire intensity, spread rate and consumption. To understand the physical mechanisms that lead to these differences, detailed analyses are conducted to look at wind patterns, mean flow and turbulent fluxes of momentum and energy. The analyses also lead to improved understanding of processes leading to high intensity crowning behavior in presence of a dense midstory. Moreover, this work highlights the importance of considering fine scale fuel heterogeneity, seasonality, wind effects and the associated fire-canopy-atmosphere interactions while considering prescribed burns and forest management operations.

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