The widespread, native defoliator western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman) reduces canopy fuels, which might affect the potential for surface fires to torch (ignite the crowns of individual trees) or crown (spread between tree crowns). However, the effects of defoliation on fire behaviour are poorly understood. We used a physics-based fire model to examine the effects of defoliation and three aspects of how the phenomenon is represented in the model (the spatial distribution of defoliation within tree crowns, potential branchwood drying and model resolution). Our simulations suggest that fire intensity and crowning are reduced with increasing defoliation compared with un-defoliated trees, regardless of within-crown fuel density, but torching is only reduced with decreasing crown fuel density. Agreater surface fire intensity was required to ignite the crown of a defoliated compared with an un-defoliated tree of the same crown base height. The effects of defoliation were somewhat mitigated by canopy fuel heterogeneity and potential branchwood drying, but these effects, as well as computational cell size, were less pronounced than the effect of defoliation itself on fire intensity. Our study suggests that areas heavily defoliated by western spruce budworm may inhibit the spread of crown fires and promote non-lethal surface fires.