Fire Technology

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 421–436

Fuel Moisture Thresholds in the Flammability of Calluna vulgaris



Managed and wild fires play a significant role in the ecology of heathlands in the UK but we currently have little ability to forecast fire behaviour or the likelihood of accidental wildfires. Like many shrubland fuel types, heathlands display significant structural complexity and the role of different fuel components in governing flammability has not been clear. Using a series of small, field-based ignition tests, we demonstrate the critical importance of the moisture content of dead fine fuels in the lower canopy for determining when sustaining fires in the vegetation canopy can develop. At moisture contents above c. 70% both spot and line ignitions failed but where moisture contents were less than c. 60% fires developed rapidly. The initial rate of spread of successful ignitions was primarily controlled by the moisture content of the lower canopy and the moss/litter layer. Models that predict the moisture content of elevated dead fuels and the moss litter layer are urgently needed in order to protect heathlands from wildfire and to allow forecasts of the suitability of conditions for prescribed burning to be developed.


Fire behaviour Fire sustainability Heathland Ignition Logistic regression Managed burning Rate of spread Wildfire 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for the Study of Environmental Change and Sustainability, School of GeoSciencesThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.School of Forest ResourcesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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