Fuels and Fire Behavior in Chipped and Unchipped Plots: Implications for Land Management Near the Wildland/Urban Interface

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Forest Ecology and Management

Publication Date






First Page


Last Page



Fire behavior was measured and modeled from eight 1 ha experimental plots located in the Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina, during prescribed burns on February 12 and February 20, 2003. Four of the plots had been subjected to mechanical chipping during 2002 to remove woody understory growth and to reduce large downed woody debris from the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The remaining four (control) plots were left untreated. The burns were low intensity (mean flame length = 36.2 cm) and slow moving (mean spread rate = 1.18 m min�1). Neither flame length nor rate of spread differed significantly between treatments (ANOVA F’s < 0.5, P > 0.7, d.f. = 1,4). Post-burn observations provided somewhat more convincing evidence of treatment effects on fire behavior. According to transect data, only slightly more than half the area in the chip plots burned as compared to upwards of 80% in the burn-only plots. BehavePlus and Hough–Albini (HA) fire models correctly predicted the low intensity, slow moving fires given the observed wind and fuel moisture conditions. Accuracy of BehavePlus predictions depended on the value for fuel height entered in the model. Use of mean fuel height for the fuel depth parameter, as is typically recommended, somewhat overestimated fire hazard in the burn-only plots. However, limiting fuel height to the observed litter depth resulted in roughly accurate predictions. HA predictions for untreated fuels were close to correct even without adjusting fuel depth. When provided with two ‘‘high-risk’’ fuel and fire weather scenarios both models predicted more extreme fire behavior in the untreated fuels. In contrast, chipping appeared to protect against dangerous wildfires as long as fuel heights remained low. Smoke monitoring data from a companion study carried out in the same plots indicated a 60% reduction in smoke particulate production from chipped areas, roughly consistent with predictions of the fire effects model FOFEM. Mechanical chipping is apparently a useful method for limiting fire-hazard and smoke production in long-unburned fuels. However, questions remain concerning the long-term fate of heavy chip fuels and resultant effects on fire and smoke during severe drought.