Conventional wisdom says that wildfires spread by radiated heat, but data collected in the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab show that wildfire spread in fine fuels typical of wildland vegetation depends heavily on convection (i.e. flame contact).

In this presentation researcher Mark Finney, of the US Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Lab, describes their new theory on fire spread and the large-scale field experiments run in Canterbury, New Zealand.

An international collaboration is underway to conduct experiments in the field that will help researchers understand how heat transfer, fluid mechanics and weather combine to allow a fire to spread in real world conditions. This is the first phase of a four year programme where various vegetation types will be burnt, in our attempt to unlock the mysteries of fire behaviour and potentially improve models for fighting wildfires.