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Observed versus predicted fire behavior in an Alaskan black spruce forest ecosystem: an experimental fire case study




Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Southwest Research Station


Fire Ecology



Fire managers tasked with assessing the hazard and risk of wildfire in Alaska, USA, tend to have more confidence in fire behavior prediction modeling systems developed in Canada than similar systems developed in the US. In 1992, Canadian fire behavior systems were adopted for modeling fire hazard and risk in Alaska and are used by fire suppression specialists and fire planners working within the state. However, as new US-based fire behavior modeling tools are developed, Alaskan fire managers are encouraged to adopt the use of US-based systems. Few studies exist in the scientific literature that inform fire managers as to the efficacy of fire behavior modeling tools in Alaska. In this study, I provide information to aid fire managers when tasked with deciding which system for modeling fire behavior is most appropriate for their use. On the Magitchlie Creek Fire in Alaska, I systematically collected fire behavior characteristics within a black spruce (Picea mariana [Mill.] Britton, Sterns & Poggenb.) ecosystem under head fire conditions. I compared my fire behavior observations including flame length, rate of spread, and head fire intensity with fire behavior predictions from the US fire modeling system BehavePlus, and three Canadian systems: RedAPP, CanFIRE, and the Crown Fire Initiation and Spread system (CFIS).


All four modeling systems produced reasonable rate of spread predictions although the Canadian systems provided predictions slightly closer to the observed fire behavior. The Canadian fire behavior prediction modeling systems RedAPP and CanFIRE provided more accurate predictions of head fire intensity and fire type than BehavePlus or CFIS.


The most appropriate fire behavior modeling system for use in Alaskan black spruce ecosystems depends on what type of questions are being asked. For determining the rate of fire movement across a landscape, REDapp, CanFIRE, CFIS, or BehavePlus can all be expected to provide reasonably accurate estimates of rate of spread. If fire managers are interested in using predicted flame length or energy produced for informing decisions such as which firefighting tactics will be successful, or for evaluating the ecological impacts due to burning, then the Canadian fire modeling systems outperformed BehavePlus in this case study.


Drury, Stacy A. 2019. Observed versus predicted fire behavior in an Alaskan black spruce forest ecosystem: an experimental fire case study. Fire Ecology. 15: 35.


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